You kicked off Sheltering at Home strong. You were baking (before the great egg shortage of 2020), testing new recipes, and thought hey, maybe this is my real calling. I can do this like a champ. 

Cut to: week three (or is it week 4 now?). And you’re currently eating peanut butter and jelly tortilla wraps over the sink wondering how you get back to the good place. Trust me when I say, you are not alone! 

Here are a few of my top nutrition and kitchen recommendations while sheltering at home with the family because we all can use a bit of help in this department right about now 

Sorting shapes and sizes with finger foods. 

Believe it or not but toddlers who have graduated past pincer foods are still learning all kinds of motor skills with every meal they eat. A great way to engage in “food play” is with a simple activity that can be done with a variety of healthy fruits and veggies, and a piece of paper. 

Parents, cut kiwis into circles. Carrots into smaller circles. Bananas can be more easily molded into triangle shapes. Broccoli tops can become circles or even trees.  Draw these shapes on a piece of paper and see if your tot can match the veggie or fruit to the shape on the page. 

Bonus, fruits and veggies are extremely nutrient dense which can help fight infections. Vegetables like broccoli are packed with selenium, a powerful antioxidant that supports the immune system and liver function. In fact, in research selenium has been shown to lower inflammation by lowering oxidative stress and inhibiting the replication of viruses.

Contrary to the popular admonishment, “don’t play with your food,” studies have shown that sensory-based food play provides a promising pathway to children’s adoption of vegetables and fruits in their diets. So you have my permission to get messy! 

If you are a parent with a young baby and you’re looking for an easy way to get fresh vegetables and fruits into your children’s diets, meal-delivery startup Yumi knows a thing or two about thriving in the kitchen.  As an add-on to Yumi meals, which are always freshly made, organic, and delivered directly to your doorstep, they are now delivering farmer fresh produce boxes. So you now have no excuse to feed yourself in addition to your young babe fresh fruits and veggies bountiful with nutrients!  In this time of great uncertainty, you can at least rest easy knowing that each week, without fail, Yumi will deliver customized meals and content straight to your doorstep, just for your little one. 

Message in a sandwich 

Letter cookie cutters are an easy and convenient way to entertain slightly older children. You can write funny messages in their sandwiches or cut words out of cheese. 

Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, but you can’t beat using food as an educational tool. For younger children, it’s a great way to introduce the “ABCs.”

“A” is for “Apple.” 

“B” is for “Banana.” 

“C” is for “Carrot.” 

And so on. 

Involve your kiddo with meal preparation

If you’re dealing with unending dinner table battles, it could help if you include your child in the making of the meal. 

It also prevents you from having to park them in front of a screen during meal prep time because we’ve all been there!  We’re not talking about letting your child saute the vegetables, but rather, a simple game of “This or That” to give children a sense of ownership over their meals. Broccoli or carrots. Carrots or spinach. This will not only help them feel more in control of their food choices but it will also allow them to get more excited about trying their own masterpiece. 

Try to throw in leafy green vegetables into the meal, like kale, spinach and swiss chard, because they all contain important antioxidants that help build and strengthen immunity both in kids and adults.  Additionally, these greens are rich sources of iron, vitamin K, folic acid, and zinc, all of which are integral nutrients to help the body run efficiently.  

If you’re having a hard time with the leafiest greens, make sure you model eating the food with your baby. You take a bite, then offer them a bite. And don’t forget to smile and express positivity while you do it. That way, your children will have a more positive response to foods the adults around them enjoy. 

Change up the scenery 

Sheltering at home means even the most basic of activities, like going to the market with mom or dad, have been removed from your child’s routine. And while it is important to stick to some kind of schedule, you don’t necessarily need to sit at a formal dining table every night. 

With that in mind, try dressing up with a chef’s hat or cheffing with a funny accent. Try anything to make kids feel less isolated and stuck. Or you can also narrate the meal as you make it,“There once was a forest of magical broccoli…” or “these green beans were delivered from the unicorn down the block.”  They will no doubt love it. 

Create a tiny tasting table in the kitchen and encourage tastes of what you are making. Studies show that the more flavors babies try, the more likely they are to enjoy a wider variety of flavors as adults. Believe it or not, research says that it takes children between 8 to fifteen tries to accept new foods. So don’t give up if they aren’t a fan of brussel sprouts or cauliflower just yet- with due time!  

Sheltering at home is the perfect opportunity to introduce children to new tastes and textures without the interruption or distractions of say, fast-food or other on-the-go foods that are traditionally loaded with more sugar than nutrition. Focus on educating them on the wholesomeness of real ingredients by letting them taste, touch and smell the varieties of food in the kitchen.

And remember, this won’t last forever. Hang in there. Your little critters will eventually thank you for the love and patience and creativeness you offer, whatever package it comes in.