When I look back at the way I fed my daughter when she was younger, I shudder. I knew very little about nutrition and she was very picky, preferring to graze on all foods beige. She was a crackers and applesauce kid through and through, and while there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the occasional fruit and carb-filled snack, we wanted to start Cia on a rainbow of healthy, fresh foods. As an aside, it took years and many tears, mine and hers, for us to get Miette on a healthier track. Perhaps that should be a topic for a future post?
This time around, I was far more prepared. I had my blender, which funnily enough I justified purchasing when Casey and I decided we were going to try to have a baby (“If I get pregnant, I will need to eat lots of greens; our blender can’t even handle a rib of kale!”), and I had obsessively poured over dozens of books on vegan nutrition*. Even with all of this, once my darling little baby got to eating, he developed a hefty preference for self-feeding. In other words, all those purees that had been carefully planned and so well balanced were fast becoming obsolete. His spoon skills are not as developed as his appetite, so I had been scrambling to come up with a good variety of finger foods. We are finally hitting our rhythm with the menu and his burgeoning skill sets (and teeth!), so this seems like the perfect time to share some of Ciaran’s favorite finger food snacks and meals.
A little extra prep work is really worth the effort here, as being able to throw together something quickly can be the difference between a happy kiddo and total meltdown. We’ve taken to making large batches of black, white, pinto, and adzuki beans in our crock pot and freezing them in one cup portions and thawing them out as needed. Same goes for chickpeas. Frozen organic peas, edamame, and corn can all be thawed and kept in the fridge. If you make tofu or tempeh, cook up some extra to keep on hand.
Cia likes a good mix; above he is munching on leftover tofu, edamame, peas, corn, fresh red peppers, and bananas. Another of Ciaran’s favorite all-finger food meals is what I like to call “The Deconstructed Burrito” which consists of beans, rice (if I have some leftover, he is not the biggest fan of rice, so sometimes I skip this), fresh chopped tomatoes, romaine lettuce (the inner part can be quite crunchy and satisfying, it turns out, making it a better choice than other greens), and avocado.
When I don’t get around to prep cooking, sometimes I will make him a Hilary’s Eat Well Adzuki Bean Burger. Their ingredients are reassuringly wholesome and they can be cooked in a toaster. I just cut them into bite-sized pieces and Ciaran devours them. Another favorite is kale chips. While I have in the past taken the time to make my own in the dehydrator, in this 2 kid household I haven’t managed to get around to it lately. There is a local company called Patrick’s Raw Vegan Creations that makes a great “Tangy Cheeze” kale chip with nutritional yeast, which boosts his B-12.
When feeding him finger foods, I still try to keep it balanced, even small snacks. There are so many fruits that are obvious choices for finger foods because of ease, but I like to keep them to minimum and offer them along side more substantial and less sweet foods. It’s not uncommon for me to cut up half an apple and serve it along side chickpeas. Black beans and bananas also seem to pair well. If I’m feeding him a high-sugar fruit, I try to make sure there is something with plenty of protein to keep his energy steady. And sometimes, when it comes to family meals, we get pretty liberal about our definition of finger food.
This is Chorizo-style Tofurky with kale and sweet potatoes, served on top of polenta. We tried spoon-feeding Cia, and he began to get extraordinarily frustrated. You can see the results when we just let him have at it on his terms.
That smile is worth a million messes. Like everything else in life, this developmental stage is all about preparation, maintaining balance, and flexibility.
*My favorites are Becoming Vegan and The Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide, the former for its thoroughness, the latter because its format is brilliant as a sort of quick guide for finding foods for specific nutritional needs.