Creating a Safe, Healthy Pantry for Young Children
Stock a variety of nutrient-rich, shelf-stable foods and you’ll be equipped to whip up healthy meals and snacks no matter what.
Long lines in supermarkets only to find empty shelves makes feeding your child a healthy, nourishing diet one of your greatest challenges. Add a hungry child or two and suddenly life gets real—quickly! Moments like these make us truly value a well-stocked pantry. Having healthy, staple ingredients on hand makes good nutrition simple, quick, and more enjoyable. It can also save money and provide a healthy routine for your family’s diet. Creating a safe, healthy pantry for young children equips us to take on meals with the confidence and peace of mind of a parent who’s taking charge of nourishing her children with the fuel they need to grow and thrive—and owning it!
It’s never too early to establish healthy eating patterns, and that begins with a pantry filled with healthy foods from all the food groups. Research shows that infants and toddlers who are introduced to a wide variety of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, are more likely to eat them. The first 24 months are when food preferences and behaviors begin to form. Surrounding them with healthy foods and seeing the whole family eating them significantly increases the opportunities for children to try new foods, and it makes it more likely they will learn to enjoy them as they grow.
Stock the Basics
Keeping a variety of shelf-stable, fresh, and frozen foods on hand, along with a savvy stash of cooking essentials and kid-approved seasonings to dress up any dish is a true meal saver. Even the simplest, quickest meals and snacks are better when made with nutritious ingredients.
Creating a Powerful Pantry
- Proteins: Canned and dried beans, lentils, and peas are rich in protein and make a great foundation to a meal. Their soft texture and mild flavor are ideal for young children. And what kid doesn’t love pasta? Add a variety of dried alternative pastas made with chickpeas or lentils for a different source of protein. Nuts and seeds and nut butters are a versatile ingredient or add-in for side dishes, hot cereal, and baked goods, like my Kids PB&J Bars. These bars have peanuts, peanut butter, chia seeds, and two pouches of Sprout Organic Berry Grape Smoothies, which have flax seed and two grams of protein, along with a full serving of fruit. Sprout Organic’s Smoothies, as well as their line of Plant Protein Blends pouches, with plant-powered ingredients like chickpeas and beans are an easy grab-and-go protein-filled snack.
- Whole grains: Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oats, couscous, and brown rice are all kid-friendly, quick-cooking whole grain sources perfect for main dishes, sides, cereals, and in baked goods, like my Kids Berry Oat Tahini Bars, made with oats and whole grain flour. Whole grain breads, dried cereals, and crackers make a quick sandwich, breakfast, and easy, out-of-the-box snack. Storing a few ready-made whole-grain meals can sometimes save the day. Try Sprout Organic Butternut Mac & Cheese and Pasta & Veggie Sauce, made with plant-based proteins, whole grain pasta, and more than a full serving of veggies.
- Veggies and fruit: Canned vegetables are essential! Tomato products, from diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa can make a quick meal young kids love, like pasta, pizza, chili, and so much more. You can never have too many or enough variety—corn, peas, carrots, green beans, beets and mushrooms— canned varieties are especially easy to pop—or sneak—into any dish, or add a little seasoning and they’re an instant side dish. Packed with vitamins, minerals, health protecting plant compounds like antioxidants, and fiber—essential for developing minds and growing bodies, it’s important to get veggies into every meal. Just be sure to choose low sodium or no added salt varieties. Don’t forget to stash long-lasting potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, like butternut and spaghetti squash. Thanks to Fruit & Veggie Blends from Sprout Organic, there’s a quick and healthy way to increase your child’s daily fruit and veg intake that’s a treat to them. Made with whole, organic fruits and vegetables with no preservatives or additives, they’re a food parents can feel good about.
When it comes to fruit, opt for unsweetened canned or jarred fruit, either cut or pureed, like applesauce, as well as dried fruit, like leathers, raisins or apricots, for a sweet snack, hot cereal mix-in, or dessert. For those in-a-hurry toddler snack needs, Sprout Organic Smoothies are instant gratification or a convenient grab-and-go for later. In addition to the fun, kid-pleasing flavors like Strawberry Banana with Yogurt and Peach Banana with Yogurt, they all have veggies and flax seed for an added nutritious boost to fuel toddlers throughout their day. Each shelf-stable pouch includes 3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and a full serving of fruit.
- Cooking essentials and seasonings: Every meal needs a behind the scenes crew. High quality vegetable oils, like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are the beginning of dishes little kids love, like stir fries, sautéed and roasted veggies, and baked goods. My Superkid Carrot Cake Muffins are always a hit. Flour, whether whole wheat or alternatives, like oat or almond flour are a baking staple that can pull off a quick batch of pancakes, muffins, or sweet treat. Even the tiniest family members deserve a little baked love with my Berry Yummy Oat Baby Muffins, which have just a taste of cinnamon and vanilla for baby’s developing taste. Of course, you’ll need your baking soda and powder, sweetener of choice, and vanilla extract, and a few favorite spices beyond salt and pepper, like cinnamon and nutmeg. On the savory side, you’ll want to have a few vinegars on hand to splash into a vinaigrette, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce to flavor whole grain noodles, farro, or brown rice, and your favorite kid-friendly spices, like garlic, paprika, and mild chili powder.
Freezer: Items keep for months in cold storage, so it’s ideal for stocking fruits and vegetables. Just as nutritious, perhaps more so, as their fresh counterparts, they are far more convenient and time-saving because they’re often pre-cut and ready to go. Frozen berries, mango, and peaches whip up a smoothie or breakfast bowl in a snap, and they make the best snacks. Spinach, broccoli, and a good mix of corn, peas, and carrots are just the thing to pull a last-minute meal together. If you double a recipe or make a large casserole, freeze those leftovers for a faster than take-out nosh. Breads will last months here too—sliced, rolls, tortillas, pizza dough… life-savers when you need that base for a fun roll-up or the perfect accompaniment to your child’s favorite soup.
Refrigerator: Your go-to for fresh, seasonal veg and fruit, as well as greens for salads—bagged salads are great—and a snackable assortment of carrots, cucumbers, grapes, apples—whatever your little ones love. Dips make snacking more fun, so nut butters, hummus, and yogurt are good fridge staples for this. They also spread nicely on bread and tortillas for lunch or snacking. Cheese or non-dairy cheese are great for snacking on their own, with crackers, or used for pastas and casseroles, pizza, and calzone, or grated onto steamed or roasted vegetables. Milk (plant-based or dairy, depending on your preference) live here too—straight-up, over hot and cold cereal, turned into a yummy pudding or frozen treat, or splashed into smoothies, like my Kids Pumpkin Peach Spice Super Smoothie. If you dilute them, 100% juices are handy and refreshing without being too sweet.
Sprout Organic’s line of baby and toddler foods are a great addition to any pantry in a household with young children. Not only are they convenient grab-and-go snacks and quick meals, their line of purees, meals, smoothies, and snacks are made with whole, organic fruits and vegetables. There are no additives or preservatives, and they are bursting with the nutrients developing bodies and minds need. That’s lots for parents to love, but not to worry, they’re a hit with little ones too. They taste great, come in a variety of fun flavor combinations, and are just the size for toddlers to feed themselves. Real, pure ingredients can be easy and shelf-stable, thanks to Sprout Organic!
Sponsored by Sprout Organic Foods.