Hi, I’m Amy Palanjian. I’m a mama to three kiddos and a writer, editor, and recipe developer for magazines, books, and websites—including this one! Feeding toddlers is a huge challenge and it can be so, so stressful. But I love to offer reassurance, encouragement, easy recipes, and tips that make feeding a family feel more manageable.
Over the past decade and a half working in media, I’ve worked as the Lifestyle Director of FamilyFun magazine, as a food editor with Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Media, and as the Deputy Editor of ReadyMade magazine. I’ve also been a contributing editor to AllRecipes magazine.
My work has appeared in All You, Better Homes and Gardens, BHG.com, Bon Appetit, Delicious Living, DIY magazine, HGTV magazine, The Kitchn, Momtastic, Mother.ly, Parents, Parents.com, Real Simple, Super Healthy Kids, Rachelraymag.com, The Wall Street Journal, Wellmark.com, The Honest Company website, and more.
I’ve appeared on Hello, Iowa on WHO13, and have been on podcasts including Food Heaven, Didn’t I Just Feed You, Crunchy Cocktail Hour, my own Comfort Food podcast, and more. Recently, I was quoted on People.com talking about family dinners (and how to make them work when they aren’t going so well!), on Slate talking about the cost of food we buy for our kids, and I shared some of my favorite panty staples with Parents.com.
I’ve also developed recipes for a number of clients including Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, Skeeter Nut-Free, Kalona Organics, Barilla, McCormick, PUJ, Reynolds, and Danone. I’ve even worked on videos for Better Homes and Gardens and Recipe.com! (My job is really super fun!)
I was chosen by New Hope Network as a featured influencer in their inaugural list of Top 100 Responsible Health & Wellness Influencers of 2020. I love helping families find an easier way to enjoy wholesome, delicious meals together.
What People Say about Yummy Toddler Food
I am a mother of a toddler with autism and a psychologist who works with children on the autism spectrum. A large percentage of the clients I work with have food aversions including my son. I have been feeling so discouraged before finding your blog on recipe ideas. I just wanted to say thank you so much!
This is the best page for mothers of toddlers ever. Thanks for being so real and not making the guilt even worse!
I just have to take a moment and thank you so much for your blog! I use it *regularly* to prepare food for my little one. (and myself and my husband!) Thank you so much for sharing.
Your posts have kept me sane and help me come up with ideas for feeding my kiddo pretty much everyday!
I just wanted to thank you for keeping it real. I don’t follow many moms/bloggers other than my family and friends because I don’t want to fill my feed with ‘fake’. But I love your ideas and appreciate your posts!
My Cookbook for Kids: Food Play!
I have a cookbook for little kids called Food Play that I am so excited to share with your families. It’s filled with easy and nutritious recipes that the kids can (mostly!) make all by themselves. There are step-by-step images, tips for grown ups, and fun tips to help the kids learn and have fun in the kitchen. You can learn all about it here.
Below I’m going to share more about how I approach feeding my family—and develop the recipes and advice you’ll see here on Yummy Toddler Food.
I stock my pantry, fridge, and freezer with whole foods as much as possible—but I also full acknowledge that reality requires shortcuts.
Most of the time, I cook with whole ingredients at home. That means I am more likely to buy, say, old-fashioned rolled oats than packets of oatmeal. Stocking my pantry with basic ingredients including whole grains, dried beans, and a wide range of flours allows me to stick to my monthly grocery budget and it gives me greater control over what we eat—I can add spices, fats, and flavorings according to the preferences of my family.
But I regularly buy jarred pasta sauce, simmer sauces, frozen veggies, canned fruit, and all sorts of other shortcut foods.
I opt for whole dairy products because I prefer the flavor and think they perform better in most recipes, especially toddler food, than fat-free versions. (My love of full fat plain yogurt knows no bounds!)
And I find it fun to make homemade versions of items you’d usually buy in the store, so you will find recipes for staples including Bread, Hummus, Cheese Crackers, Chocolate Milk, Granola, and more—but that doesn’t mean I don’t also value the convenience of store-bought versions. (My kids love Goldfish and applesauce pouches!) I certainly don’t have time to scratch-bake crackers everyday and I don’t expect you to either!
I believe that it’s possible to raise kids who like all kinds of food—Goldfish and broccoli, ice cream and smoothies, chicken nuggets and homemade stir fry. The key for me is presenting these foods without pressure, restriction, or comments, and surrounding them first and foremost with the foods we want them to eat. We get to decide which foods we bring into our homes. Keep reading for more on how this works.
I minimize added sugars in my recipes—but I do not stress about sugar in the big picture.
My goal is to raise kids who are able to eat a whole range of foods and who are able to tap into their hunger and fullness. I do not want them to fear or have guilt from any particular food, so I do not label desserts or treats as “good” or “bad” and I do not worry excessively about sugar.
I have found that it’s very possible to bake delicious cakes, cupcakes, and muffins with lower added sugar and still allows all of the flavors and textures to shine through. So while I often use fruit to lend sweetness to toddler foods, I also use modest maple syrup, honey, and yes, even real sugar, in dessert recipes.
I involve the kids in the kitchen (but not all the time!).
I don’t go full Montessori-style every day (I don’t always have the time to let them do everything on their own, even though I do see the value in that approach!), but I’ve found that having the girls help me get a meal ready or bake a special recipe makes them more interested and involved. And often they nibble on veggies as they help, even if they don’t eat them at the table, which I consider a huge plus.
Cooking together is an activity that we all love so we do it regularly. We have a learning tower in our kitchen and more often than not, at least one of my kids is in there with me while I’m making meals.
I am not a short order cook and I prioritize family meals.
My family eats breakfast and dinner together 99% of the time—and in 2020, lunch too—which yes, does mean that we eat dinner at 5:30 (and it also means that us adults have a snack later in the evening). I do my best to serve a variety of foods—whether the girls say they like them or not—so that we don’t get stuck eating the same few foods over and over. When I make a new or unfamiliar food, I always try to pair it with something I know they like.
Or, at the very least, have cheese, crackers, or fruit on the table so that there’s something “safe” to eat.
I do not cook separate meals except on very special occasions—like when I want to make a special meal for just my husband and I to enjoy after the girls are in bed. We are incredibly fortunate that none of our kids has had an issue with growth, allergies, or appetite (apart from during illnesses). I do have good friends with kiddos who have those issues though, so you may see the topics addressed.
I believe it’s possible to cook one family meal and adjust it for everyone at the table as needed, which you’ll see reflected in modifications I offer in recipes. I also realize that feeding a family is a LOT of work and that it’s a very good idea to take shortcuts where you can.
(And yes, some nights we let the kid watch the ipad so my husband and I can have an actual conversation over our meal.)
Mealtime is as drama-free as possible (which is not to say that it’s totally calm!).
I meal plan and I post the week’s menu on a dry erase board in our kitchen so everyone knows what’s for dinner. And I follow this advice called The Division of Responsibility in Feeding from feeding expert Ellyn Satter:
The parent is responsible for what, when, where
The child is responsible for how much and whether
No forcing bites. No making anyone feel badly if they doesn’t like something, no taking it personally if they decide not to eat something that it took me hours to make.
I trust that my kids are in tune with their hunger and that their intake will balance itself out over the course of any given week. We don’t talk about “good” foods or “bad” foods, but I focus on flavor and how more wholesome foods will help them grow and run fast (or twirl like a ballerina, depending on the day).
Some meals are better than others, some meals are loud and chaotic because life with kids can be that way!
I am aware that toddlerhood has particular challenges when it comes to food.
Kids don’t learn how to properly chew until they are around age 4, which means I realize that little kids are still learning how to eat (and need to be mindful of some choking hazards). I keep this in mind with the recipes and advice I share and do my best to share content that can be enjoyed by everyone at the table. I also know that little kids go through a normal phase of being more fearful of new foods, and I try to reassure and guide families through that stage…because it can be a real challenge!
In normalizing the struggles, I hope to help families have happier meals—no matter what the kids may eat or not eat because meals are about much more than just nutrition.
I test and retest my recipes.
I have three very opinionated taste testers (as well as many friends who regularly enjoy the surplus of what I make) so you can be sure everything is being well vetted, tested, and retested when necessary. I also know that it’s hard to feed kids, but even more so when you’re dealing with a food allergy or intolerance, so I try to offer allergy-free options when I can.
The result? I have a house of enthusiastic eaters.
My kids 100% do not eat everything I make or serve them, but they are generally happy eaters. One loves smoothies, the other has never had more than a sip in her life, the third is hit or miss. Two love meat, the other could take it or leave it…and usually leaves it. They are unique and opinionated, just as I expected them to be! And all still make a total mess at the table and I consider myself lucky to get to clean up after them…if also amazed how how often I find myself sweeping the kitchen floor and running the dishwasher!
I love to help families figure out how to approach toddler food when challenges arise.
This age offers up a whole new host of issues to work through and it often leaves parents feeling like they’re failing. You’re not! This is hard because it’s actually hard, so never feel like you’re doing something wrong. There’s a lot we can do to create a foundation for happier meals that has nothing to do with the food, so hang in there and consider starting with these posts:
- Division of Responsibility
- Normal Sign of Picky Eating in Kids
- Toddler Won’t Eat? Here’s What’s Normal (and What’s Not)
- Sample Toddler Meal Plan and Feeding Schedules
- How to Serve Family Style Meals
- Why Kids Don’t Need to Diet