Talking with Dana Angelo White, Author of First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers

What are the best foods to be feeding our children during their peak time for growth and development? I had the opportunity to chat with Dana Angelo White, registered dietitian, Healthy Eats contributor and author of the new book First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers.

Every day we hear about superfoods adults should be eating. But what about our little ones? What are the best foods to be feeding our children during their peak time for growth and development? I had the opportunity to chat with Dana Angelo White, registered dietitian, Healthy Eats contributor and author of the new book First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers.

What makes a food "super" for babies and toddlers?

"Superfood" is really an abused term. Some less-reliable sources on nutrition lead people to believe that any food dubbed “super” is magical and one bite will cure anything. My definition is much different. For a food to reach super status, it must be delicious, beautiful, unprocessed and bursting with nutrients. Bananas and brown rice are obvious super choices, but exposing tiny palates to more unique foods like quinoa and bison also offers a plethora of good nutrition plus some exciting flavors and textures to explore. My list of 50 foods represents a well-rounded group that is affordable, easy to find and filled with the nutrients that growing bodies need. Incorporating these whole foods into meals and snacks will help promote growth, energy, strength and brain power.

What are the top three superfoods you recommend babies first be introduced to?

Most pediatricians will recommend starting off with rice or another easily digestible grain cereal. After that I like to move on to a simple applesauce, followed by mashed bananas and veggie purees made from butternut squash or carrots. All these options have fabulous flavor, color and texture — babies (and big kids) just love them. I also caution parents to pace themselves. It’s exciting and can be tempting to give your child a new food at every meal, but babies’ tummies and palates need time to adjust, so it’s important to introduce new foods one at a time.

You made all your daughters’ baby food. What are three tips you can give parents who want to make their own baby food but are crunched for time?

I’ve always approached family cooking like this: Since I’m cooking for myself, I should be cooking for the kids too. So just like cooking for myself, I plan ahead.

1. Make large batches of baby food and store in the freezer (ice cube trays work great for small portions). A few seconds to reheat and you’re ready to go!

2. Don't be a short-order cook — I still use this method for my daughters, who are now 3 and 5. I prepare a meal that everyone can eat, with slight modifications such as finely chopping the meat or skipping the hot sauce for the little ones.

3. Make a meal plan — plan out a rough sketch of what the family will eat for the week. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but having some sort of plan will make shopping and meal prep much easier on busy weekdays.

Many parents complain about having a picky child who won’t eat fruits and/or vegetables. What is your advice to those parents?

My overall goal is to keep mealtime fun, an experience that everyone looks forward to. My girls love to assert their independence everywhere, including the kitchen. I encourage them to continue to enjoy the foods they love but also challenge them to try new things. We eat as a family as often as possible, and the kids always help with some aspect of the meal prep, whether it’s sprinkling cheese or setting the table. When it comes to fruits and veggies, I try to prepare them in fun ways. Roasting to bring out the natural sweetness or blending into smoothies and soups are just a few ways to make fruits and vegetables more exciting.

Could you share a favorite recipe from your new book, First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers?

Photo by: Rob Staub ©Rob Staub Phtography, Inc

Rob Staub, Rob Staub Phtography, Inc

Mac and Cheese with Vegetables and Chicken

This is an awesome mixed meal for little ones who are 10 to 12 months old. Serve with fruit for a complete and well-balanced meal. I still make this (unpureed) for the entire family to enjoy.

1/2 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup chopped carrots
3 ounces cooked chicken breast
1/4 cup low-fat milk

2 ounces American cheese, shredded or chopped (Applegate brand recommended)

2 cups small-shaped pasta (such as stelline or orzo)

Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside. Place broccoli and carrots in a small saucepan and boil until very tender (about 15 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Transfer cooked vegetables and chicken to a food processor and pulse until well chopped; add a bit of reserved veggie cooking liquid if mixture appears too dry. Set aside.

Heat milk in a small saucepan until steamy. Add pasta and cheese; stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Mix in chicken mixture and add more cooking liquid, if desired.

Yield: about 3 cups

Nutrition information per 1/2 cup: Calories: 147, Total Fat: 4 grams, Saturated Fat: 2 grams, Carbohydrate: 18 grams, Sugars: 1 gram, Protein: 11 grams, Sodium: 157 milligrams, Cholesterol: 21 milligrams, Fiber: 2 grams, Vitamin D: 5 IU, Calcium: 78 milligrams, Iron: 0.6 milligrams

Excerpted from First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers by Dana Angelo White. © 2015 by Dana Angelo White. A Perigee Book, Penguin Group USA, A Penguin Random House Company.

Photo Courtesy Rob Staub Photography

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is the author of the new release First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers (Perigee/Penguin Random House). As a registered dietitian and certified athletic trainer specializing in culinary and sports nutrition, White is an educator, a clinician, and most importantly, a mom of two.  Learn more at www.danawhitenutrition.com and follow her on Twitter @DWNutrition.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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