My Pantry Essentials: 5 Staples for Feeding a Toddler

Don't be fooled; my pantry and refrigerator are also full of peanut butter, hot dogs, and Goldfish crackers. And, oh, so much pasta. But here are four healthy, possibly-offbeat-for-parents-of-young-children ingredients I rely on to feed my toddler, plus one I'm almost too embarrassed to share.Pantry "essentials" implies that you buy these things over and over again, and anyone with a toddler knows that what she loves one day she hates the next. It's hard to have stand-bys. But all of the following are things you eat, too, so you won't be left with something weird when your two-year-old stonewalls.

Also, ahem, coffee is the essential to end all essentials if you have a toddler. That goes without saying, right?

1. Rancho Gordo beans. I make the effort to order these beans from California because their flavor is out of this world (we pant about them enough around here, but really...so superior to canned beans). They are worth every penny, they serve us as a main dish for several meals, and when I pile them on top of ingredients 2 and 4, my child eats seconds and thirds almost every time.

2. Frozen collard greens (or broccoli or spinach). I prefer cooking fresh collard greens any day of the week, but frozen vegetables are so key in a pinch. Ones that are already chopped? Even better. I throw these into soups or mix them into rice.

3. Frozen salmon or tilapia filets. Not every toddler will gobble up fish, I know. Mine does (and yet shuns chicken!), but because it's not great left over and she's unpredictable, I don't want to spend a ton of money on it. I buy individually frozen filets from Whole Foods that are pretty reasonable, or I'll go for frozen fish "burgers," which are even cheaper. They thaw in no time on the counter, and then I simply sauté in a little butter.

4. Rice. Rice! So innovative! But seriously, I could write an entire post on how to quickly make rice into a full meal for a kid. I often add chopped greens to the pot while it's cooking, then top the mixture with beans. Or mix rice with finely chopped broccoli and a spoonful of ricotta. It's also a godsend for upset tummies.

5. Frozen bagels. Ok, I live in New York, with the best fresh bagels in the world a short walk away, so this is painful to admit. But I love finding a sleeve of commercial bagels in my freezer. Why? Toddler logic. A bagel is more exciting than bread. I toast it and slather it with cream cheese or peanut butter for breakfast (microwave for a few seconds first), make it into pizza for lunch or dinner, and toast it for dunking into soup. When I remember, I freeze the good ones from the store down the street.

Parents: What are your staples for feeding young children?

Related: Eating Light: Frozen Vegetables are Your Friends

(Image: Faith Durand)

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