Healthier Chicken Fingers Your Toddler Will Love

My little precious has a love-hate relationship with chicken. Sometimes he gobbles it up, especially if I serve it with a dipping sauce, other times he takes one bite and tosses the rest from his tray. As alternatives to roast chicken, I feed him chicken-apple soup and organic chicken-apple sausage. But I’ve been getting bored with these go-to chicken dinners, and I’m sure Mason is too, so I’ve been looking for a new kid-friendly, mom-approved chicken recipe to spice things up. A couple of weeks ago at a birthday party, I found just the recipe. We were celebrating Mason’s friend Lina’s first birthday and her mom, Elif (one of the LIC Mamas), served homemade chicken fingers for the kids–and they were a hit. Golden brown and crisp on the outside, and juicy on the inside, the chicken looked and smelled so delish even the adults were eating it up. Elif was sweet enough to share the recipe with me, so I made the chicken tonight for Mason’s dinner (it took about 10 minutes) and served it with steamed corn and applesauce. Hope your tot enjoys the chicken fingers, as much as mine does. Do you have a chicken recipe that your tot loves? Share it here!

 

Chicken Fingers

Ingredients

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 egg
Olive oil (enough to keep chicken from burning)

Directions
Cut chicken breasts into strips and set aside. Beat egg in a large bowl. Place bread crumbs on flat plate. Coat chicken with egg and then transfer to bread crumbs. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Make sure oil is very hot. Slowly place the coated strips in oil until brown, turn over, brown other side. Remove from pan and lay chicken strips on paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Serve immediately.

NOTE: I call this chicken fingers recipes healthier because it’s not deep-fried and it uses heart-healthy olive oil. You can also skip most of the olive oil by spraying (or brushing) a baking dish with olive oil and baking the chicken fingers on 350 for about 25 minutes (or until center is no longer pink); broil the last five for a crispier texture on the outside.

Top photo by Elif Memisoglu

Tuesday Timesaver: 12 Easy Sauces & Dippers for Roast Chicken

Cool, creamy Cucumber-Yogurt Dip is delish on plain roasted chicken — and it’s rich in calcium.

Best for Babies 10+ Months Old

Mason is still in his Mr. Picky phase, which means mealtime is always a gamble. It’s either super fun or super miserable, depending on Bug’s mood. Last night I was hoping for super fun. It was a Monday, after all, and I had just started my (awesome) new job, so I was pretty tapped out. I turned to an old stand-by — store-bought, free-range rotisserie chicken, one of his faves — and served it with mashed butternut squash (roasted the night before and mashed with whole milk, a little butter, and a dash of nutmeg), and chunks of cooked apple. Bug dug in but quickly got bored with his chicken. On a whim, I gave him some Roasted Red Pepper Hummus to dip it in; he loves hummus almost as much as he loves cheese.  That chicken disappeared from his tray fast! Guess Dr. Sears was right when he said dips are a great way to inspire 1-year-olds to eat.

Since the hummus and chicken combo went so well, I’m going to try serving lots of different sauces and dips with Mason’s roast chicken from now on so he can dip each piece before eating it. Check out my quick and easy picks below. I’ll make big batches ahead so we have plenty for the week. Stay tuned for great veggie and fruit dippers!

1. Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

2. Peanut Sauce

3. Roasted Eggplant Dip

4. Easy Marinara Sauce

5. Cilantro Mint Sauce

6. Apricot BBQ Sauce

7. Classic Pesto Sauce

8. Mustard-Dill Sauce

9. Mint-Yogurt Sauce

10. Baby Cheese Sauce

11. Plum Sauce

12. Cucumber-Yogurt Dip

How do you spice up chicken for your toddler?

Photo courtesy of BHG.com

What Mason Ate Today, Part 2


On Fridays after work Mason and I meet up with a group of neighborhood moms and their babes. I’m so lucky to have met these women:  They’re dynamic, talented, and inspiring, my sisters in motherhood. Our kids are all about the same age and we can share any parenting quandary without fear of judgement — we’re all first-time moms who met during those particularly vulnerable postpartum months and we formed a bond. I can count on them. When my nanny had a last-minute doctor’s appointment that conflicted with a mandatory meeting at work, Diane arranged for her nanny to care for Mason. When I failed to find the frozen fruit-holding teether that so many moms think is a miracle, it was Florence who finally found it and bought one for Mason. And so on. Tonight we watched as Zann and Mason entertained sweet, serene Charlotte with their rambunctious little boy antics and we  marveled at how big they’re all getting. It’s amazing how much they’ve grown and how miraculous they all are.

Today was special for another reason. In addition to enjoying my time with the girls and watching Mason delight in his time with the other babes, today was another one of those days where Mason ate a fun variety of foods, everything that was served to him as well as a little of this and that from our plates. Here’s today’s magic menu. What did your babe eat today? Did he/she try anything new?


Breakfast

Oatmeal with yogurt mixed with organic peaches
Part of my cheese omelet
A few bites of blueberry muffin

Lunch

1-1/2 veggie-filled meatballs
Organic sweet corn
Cherry applesauce
An organic strawberry, mashed

Snack

Organic apple puffs
Organic banana, diced

Dinner

Chicken-apple soup
Organic sweet potato, diced
Greek yogurt with cinnamon-spiced blueberries and apples

Baby Chicken-Apple Soup

chicken_soup

Best for Babies 10+ Months

Dinnertime is our special bonding time. Mason is happy and smiley. We sing , we recite our ABCs, we talk. He’s getting the hang of finger foods so every meal includes some combo of his faves, along with yogurt and a fruit or veggie puree. To change things up, I decided to make soup last night. Mason loves apples and chicken so when I saw this Parents.com recipe for a soup with both ingredients I just had to try it. My variation of the recipe is below. I used ground ginger instead of parsley–I love ginger in chicken soup. Instead of pureeing the ingredients, I chopped the onion, carrot, celery, and chicken into tiny pieces. I mashed the garlic in a garlic press, and I added in frozen corn (a veggie Mason hasn’t tried yet). All the chopping took extra time but it was kinda fun; you can also puree my version of the soup for younger babes. The soup smelled so delish I had a bowl myself. Yum! Try it out — and let us know what you think!

Baby Chicken-Apple Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon  olive oil
1 medium Gala apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small  onion, diced
1 medium  carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove  garlic, minced
2 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into tiny pieces
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup frozen sweet corn
4 cups chicken broth or homemade chicken stock

*You can also add brown rice or small pasta noodles to this soup, as well as greens such as chopped spinach or kale.

Directions

 

1. Wash, peel and/or chop all veggies and chicken.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add apple, celery, onion, carrot, and garlic. Cook and stir for 6 minutes. Add in chicken, corn, ginger, and broth or stock. Bring to a boiling, then reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, until chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 20 minutes. 

 

3. Cool slightly and serve. Or puree soup, in batches, before serving. Freeze leftovers for up to three months. Soup can stay in the refrigerator for up to three days.

 


carrots

 


apples

 


celery

 


corn

onion

Tuesday Timesaver: Chicken for a Week

chicken

Best for Babies 8+ Months Old

Mason adores rotisserie chicken. Adores it. We first discovered his passion for it while we were at a friend’s house. Chris was eating takeout roast chicken and he broke off a few pieces and gave them to Bug. Mason is not one to go out of his way to feed himself — the child still refuses to hold his own bottle and you know about our sippy cup woes — so I was amazed when he stuffed the chicken in his mouth as soon as it hit his tray. No coaxing required. And then he reached for more! Finally, a healthy finger food more substantial than puffs and easier to pick up than squishy bits of banana or avocado.

Inspired, I picked up an organic rotisserie chicken on the way home from work last night. At home, I cut up the whole chicken and removed the skin. Then I removed the meat from the bones, shredded it into thin, short strips and divided the chicken into two-ounce portions. One portion went in the fridge for Bug’s lunch today and the remaining six went in the freezer for later. Seven portions of a healthy protein for just over $1 per serving (in New York City) — and the entire process only took about 15 minutes!

I loved this chicken shortcut because it was healthy and it saved time. It was also so inexpensive! Of course, you can save even more money by roasting your own chicken at home, which I often do, but last night time was more important to me than saving a few bucks. (Mason’s affinity for roast chicken also means no more pureeing chicken, thank God). You can stretch this timesaver to cover your entire family too. If Chris weren’t out of town, I would have whipped up this Dijon-crusted variation with Brussels sprouts for us (it’s one of our fave chicken recipes), then frozen the leftovers for Mason. Dinner doesn’t get much easier than that!

What are your favorite dinnertime shortcuts?

 

shredded_chicken

*This post is the first in my new weekly series about saving time and money on eats for your babe. Hope you enjoyed it! If there’s a topic you’d love to hear about, please let me know.

 

Top photo: Evan Sung, Parents.com

Butternut Squash 4 Ways

Best for Babies 6+ Months Old

I’m perplexed. For months, Mason loved butternut squash. Loved it. It was his first yellow veggie. He ate it plain, he ate it with chicken. He enjoyed it mixed with yogurt and peaches, and he loved the simple combination of butternut squash and apple. Now he cries when I try to feed it to him.

What gives? Apparently this happens. Babes suddenly decide they don’t like something. And that’s it. I’m a bit sad — I loved that he loved butternut squash. It’s pure and simple. Wholesome, velvety, luscious. I felt good feeding it to him. And it’s so simple to make.

Of course, I won’t feed Mason something that makes him cry. For now the butternut squash in my freezer will stay there. I’m hoping he’ll enjoy it once again. If he doesn’t we’ll share it with one of his little friends.

In honor of Mason’s (former) favorite veggie, here are the butternut squash recipes he enjoyed for the last few months. (Before you get started cooking, don’t miss my guide to how to roast and puree butternut squash.) Try out our recipes and let us know what your babe thinks!

Basic Butternut Squash Puree

Ingredients

1.5 lb Organic butternut squash
Water
Pre-mixed formula, breast milk, or yogurt (optional)

Directions

1. Scoop flesh out of a roasted squash. Discard the skin.

2. Puree squash flesh in a food processor. Add water until you reach a smooth consistency. For extra creaminess add a splash of pre-mixed formula, breast milk, or plain yogurt.

Butternut Squash & Chicken Puree

1/3 cup boiled,  organic chicken, shredded
1/2 cup cooked organic butternut squash, diced
Water

1. Poach chicken for about 35 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Shred a cup’s worth, and set aside.
2. Roast butternut squash. Scoop flesh from shell. Set aside 1/2 cup.
3. Combine both the squash and chicken in a food processor or blender. Add cooking liquid or water until you reach desired consistency. (Think smooth but without being watery.) Freeze extras for up to three months.

Butternut Squash-Peach Puree with Yogurt

To make Butternut Squash-Peach Puree with Yogurt, mix equal parts Butternut Squash Puree with Peach Yogurt (below):

Peach Yogurt

Ingredients

Organic Stonyfield full-fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt*
1 bag frozen, organic peaches

Directions

1. Cook peaches. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Puree until you reach desired consistency.
2. Combine yogurt and pureed peaches.
3. Freeze leftovers in 2 to 4-ounces portions.
4. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Butternut Squash with Apple

To make Butternut Squash-Apple puree, mix equal parts Butternut Squash Puree (above) with Apple Puree:

Apple Puree

Organic Gala apple
Water

Directions

1. Wash, peel, and dice apple. Cook until tender (about 15 minutes).

2. Reserve some cooking liquid, then plunge cooked apple into ice water for about 3 minutes.

3. Puree cooled apple until smooth.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Dinner in the Tub


We decided to shake up Mason’s routine Monday night, and that’s how he wound up eating his dinner in the bathtub. I got home from work and instead of playing in his gym or reading books we took a little field trip around our building (it was too cold to go out). Down the hall we went — the light fixtures crack Mason up. Then to the laundry room to check out the dryers. What’s cooler than a bunch of colorful clothes swirling around in a circle? We checked out the new books in the lending library then chatted up Sal, the doorman, in the lobby. On the way back upstairs we stopped by a neighbor’s place to show off Mason’s new slippers.

Back home and exhilarated from our adventure, we got ready for Mason’s bath. I’ve never seen a kid who loves his bath more than Mason does. As soon as he sees his tub, he starts cooing and kicking his legs. By the time I’ve actually gotten water in the tub he’s so excited I have to struggle to keep him dive bombing into it. I was just giving him a final rinse when I remembered that Mason hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Damn. Normally he eats much earlier but he had been having a rough day of teething so we decided to give him Tylenol and wait until he felt better.

I looked at the clock. Thirty minutes until bedtime — a time we keep consistent since he was sleep trained. I don’t like feeding him so close to bed for fear that he’ll throw up in his crib, but putting him to bed without dinner wasn’t an option. I could get him out of the tub, dry him off, dress him (which he hates), feed him, then do the bath all over again. Or I could just feed him in the tub, then go about our normal bedtime routine.

I went the later (easier) route, and we both loved it.

As you can see, Mason got to make a mess. The kid is squirmy and it’s a battle to get the food from the bowl to his mouth. He’ll grab the spoon, fling it and giggle as the food spatters on his clothes, his face, all over the place. Or he’ll grab the spoon, get the stuff all over his hands and smear it as far as he can reach. His meal? YoBaby peach yogurt, Chicken and Carrots, and Apple and Sweet Potato.   I got a break from clean up. No high chair mess. No onesie to Shout. A quick rinse and he was clean.

I’m not saying we’ll make our bathtub dinners a habit. Dinner has happened on time, in the high chair, every other night this week. But if we happen to find ourselves in the same situation again, I won’t hesitate to feed him in the tub. And you know what? Both of us will enjoy it.

What mealtime shortcuts make your life easier?

My Big Scare

Mason choked. It wasn’t the little sputtering cough-like choke that happens when babies drink their milk a little too quickly – it was an honest-to-God, can’t breathe, flapping the hands, red in the face kind of choke. It was only a split second, maybe less, before he threw up and then laughed hysterically, but it was the scariest moment of my life. Just writing this post, weeks after it happened, makes my heart beat faster.

Mason moved on fast. He promptly squeaked for more food and gobbled up the sweet potatoes I fed him with shaking hands. I was so traumatized I called the pediatrician even though it was a Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure what I expected her to do. I suppose I just needed an expert to assure me that I wasn’t The Worst Mother in the World because my babe choked. In fact, she assured me that Mason was fine as long as he was breathing and acting normally (he was and he did). She added, “It’s really scary when that happens, but it happens. Don’t worry about it.”

Since that awful Saturday I’ve been extra careful about the consistency of Mason’s food. He’s old enough that he can have chunkier food but “chunky” in baby food speak is still smooth – think a few ripples here and there versus actual chunks. Texture gets especially tricky when it comes to pureeing meats. I just made a batch of Chicken-Apple Puree and even with lots of cooking liquid it was still too chunky to serve. I blended in pre-made formula until I finally got a creamy consistency. When I reheat the stuff, I always add more formula — it seems to get chunkier after being frozen — so it’s very creamy before serving.

Chicken-Apple Puree

The recipe:

Ingredients

2 organic Gala apples
1 organic chicken breast
Breast milk or pre-made forumla

Directions

1. Poach the chicken until tender (about 35 minutes).
2. Rinse the chicken under cold water then shred. Set aside.
3. Peel the apples, dice, and cook until tender (about 15 minutes).
4. Combine apples and chicken in a blender or food processor. Add formula or breast milk. Blend until creamy.


Even with lots of cooking liquid, the puree is too too chunky to serve.


The puree, blended with formula, all ready to eat.

Have you had any scary moments while feeding your babe? What do you do to help prevent choking?

1 Protein + 2 Veggies + 1 Fruit = 4 Meals

As a food editor I spend hours studying current food trends — which foods are the new superstars, how people are eating today vs. yesterday, and so on. Of course, not every trend is surprising. We all know that people are cutting back on what they spend these days so everyone is looking for creative, fun ways to cook inventive, delicious meals for less. Tonight I applied that same principle to what I was cooking for Mason. How could I take just a few organic ingredients and come up with several different yummy purees that were simple and nutritious?

For starters, I surveyed what we had on hand. The three organic sweet potatoes on the counter looked good. We had four organic Gala apples fresh from the, um, grocery store. Chicken was already thawed in the fridge so that was in. A solid, six-month-old-friendly protein. A hearty winter veggie. And a versatile fruit. I was set.

The first puree that I made was a no-brainer —  I’ve made it before, and it’s super easy:  Chicken and Sweet Potatoes.

Chicken-Sweet Potato-Apple Puree

Next I thought about the combination of food my hubby and I like to eat.  We like texture, contrasting flavors, fresh seasonal fruits and veggies. So I decided to add a little apple to the mix to create Chicken-Sweet Potato-Apple Puree. When combined, the apple added sweetness to the mix, while the sweet potato was smooth and mellow. And the chicken fit right in. Mason hasn’t tried this little number yet, but I assume he’ll like it. After all, he likes the three ingredients alone.
Sweet Potatoes and Apple Puree

From there I moved on to classic Sweet Potatoes and Apple. I wanted a blend that would be a  lovely balance of fruit and veggie. It would end my daily debate about whether Mason was getting an equal balance of the two, and there’s something so scrumptious about sweet potatoes topped with warmly spiced fall fruit. Mason’s variation wasn’t spiced, but it was equally good. I loved that it blended into a rich orange color– I used a bit more sweet potato than apple simply because that’s what I had on hand. Normally I’d do an equal balance of the two. I loved that the mixture was smooth and easy, with just a hint of sweetness. I loved that it was packed with beta carotene, vitamin C, and lots of other good stuff.

Chicken and Carrots

Three purees down but with some chicken left, I pulled out a couple of jars of carrot from the cupboard (remember, carrots have a high nitrate content so you shouldn’t make them on your own) and mixed up a Chicken and Carrot blend. Plain, straightforward,  nutritious. Mason won’t complain. He enjoys this combo, although it certainly doesn’t have the pizazz that the Chicken-Sweet Potato-Apple Puree does.

Not a bad night of cooking — and I ended up with 25 servings of baby food for about $12, including the carrots. How do you make the most of your kitchen staples when making your babe his/her food?

The recipes:

Chicken-Sweet Potato-Apple Puree

1/3 cup boiled, shredded chicken
1/2 cup cooked, diced apple
1/2 cup cooked, diced sweet potato
Water

1. Poach chicken for about 35 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Shred a cup’s worth, and set aside.
2. Steam 1-2 diced apples, depending on size, for about 15 minutes or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside 1/2 cup.
3. Steam a sweet potato for about 15 minutes or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside 1/2 cup.
4. Combine all three ingredients in a food processor or blender. Add cooking liquid or water until you reach your desired consistency. (Think smooth but without being watery.) Freeze extras for up to three months.

Sweet-Potato Apple Puree

1 sweet potato
1 apple

1. Dice apple, steam for about 15 minutes
2. Dice sweet potato, steam for about 15 minutes
3. Combine the two in a food processor or blender. Add cooking liquid or water. Blend until smooth. Freeze extras for up to three months.

Chicken and Carrots

2 chicken breasts
6 oz jarred baby carrots

1. Poach chicken for about 35 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Shred.
2. Combine chicken and 6 oz of carrots in a food processor or blender. Add cooking liquid or water and blend until your desired consistency. (Think pretty smooth without being watery.) Freeze extras for up to three months.

*Appropriate for 6 months and older

Going Commercial

Mason flew on a plane for the eighth time this past weekend. Fortunately for us, the kid loves to travel. He gets excited when we hop into the cab to go from our apartment to the airport. The characters we encounter once we’re there delight him. He flirts with the flight attendants, and he manages to charm even the most disgruntled seat mate. Best of all, he generally falls asleep for the better portion of the trip so we haven’t had to face our fears of whether we can soothe him if he starts screaming inconsolably 30,000-feet in the air (yet) — I mean, who wants to be those people on the plane?!

Our trip this past weekend meant that we had to go commercial with our baby food.  I doubted I could carry enough food to last us the weekend, and I’m not so sure it would made it through airport security. So I decided to go with Earth’s Best. After all, it’s the organic brand we use for our carrots (a veggie that you can’t make for baby yourself due to its high level of nitrates), and Mason enjoys it very much. Our picks: chicken and sweet potatoes, squash and apples, banana, apple, and the same brand of baby oatmeal we use at home (Gerber).

Luckily, Mason loved it all.

True, a little piece of me felt crushed. I feel as passionate about giving Mason homemade food as some mothers feel about breast feeding. (I realize my feelings are totally illogical, but still.) So it felt like defeat to have to go the store-bought route. Sort of like I was cheating, taking the easy way out. But while I can’t deny the little thrill that I felt when I tasted the store-bought sweet potato-chicken blend and concluded that it wasn’t quite as yummy as my homemade variation (although it was very close), the pleasure that I felt from watching Mason enjoy another meal was far greater.

I also experienced his newly discovered passion for yogurt. The Yobaby that I had planned on giving him as his first yogurt was at home in our fridge in New York, so I mixed Greek yogurt with a generous helping of Earth’s Best apples. Totally delish! It was definitely a close second to Mason’s beloved oatmeal for breakfast — he was giddy between bites. Isn’t it amazing how babies have the ability to relish even the smallest things and make them feel exciting to us again?

By the end of the weekend, I realized I had learned something. Instead of staying up until midnight to make all of Mason’s food, or scrambling to get it all done before work, I should cut myself some slack. (Those parenting books are right! Perfectionism really doesn’t have a place in parenting!) The world won’t end if there’s a meal now and again where he eats commercially prepared baby food instead of homemade. Instead, I’ll focus on enjoying Mason’s reaction to the food rather than whether I was the one who made it.