$5 dinners

Erin's 4-year-old, ready to cook on the cheap.

Erin Chase of $5 Dinners is telling Cafe Kim in Food & Party Buzz right now the secrets to planning ahead and making family dinners for $5 or less.

So, I butted right in and asked this Toddler Mom of 2 and 4 year old boys if she'd give us this week's Toddler Meal. I was stunned by her answer:

"I'm not sure I believe in toddler friendly meals," says Chase. "I think toddlers should eat what the family is eating. As long as the food can be cut into smaller, bite size pieces, any meal can be made for a toddler."

Stunned ... because she's so right! Go to $5 Dinners and you'll see exactly what she means. Her recipes are made from whole, natural, and minimally processed ingredients that both big and little people will love, including spaghetti, chicken strips, and mini pizzas. And who could beat that price?

"I have these great four-inch pizza pans that make the perfect size pizza for the boys," Chase says. "They love my homemade crust and sauce, too!"

Chase pointed me to one of her family's favorite dinners -- Mini Meatloaves with Mashed Potatoes -- but first I had to know how she mastered the art of Getting Toddlers to Eat What You Serve Them Without Whiny Complaints.

So, I'm guessing you don't have picky eaters ...

They used to be, due largely in part to their sensory processing issues. We have worked hard to provide a well-balanced and healthy diet that they will enjoy. They both love peas and broccoli, or "trees" as we call them. My oldest doesn't like other "green things" in his food, like green peppers or zucchini. My youngest is pretty much a garbage disposal and eats anything and everything. I don't think I have seen him refuse any food. I count my blessings with him!

Do they complain about what you serve them? If they do, how do you deal with it?

On occasion they won't eat a part of the meal, but usually with a little gentle convincing they are willing to try the food. And usually end up liking it! With my oldest, I can say, "Well, it tastes like spaghetti, but the noodles are different. Are you sure you don't want to just taste it?" He will usually give it a taste and be pleased with the new food. My youngest, like I said, needs no convincing.

How do you get a toddler to try new foods?

Just put the food in front of them and encourage (not force!) them to eat it. If they don't want to eat it, they can be hungry for the rest of the night. I will not back down and give them a snack after dinner if they did not eat their dinner. If they ask for more food half an hour after dinner time, offer their dinner again. If they don't want it, they don't have to eat it. 

They will be fine missing part of one meal for an evening. The next night, I imagine they will eat! If not, hold your ground and repeat. If you want your child to eat healthy meals, you make that decision for them. A three year old is in no position to make decisions about what is good for him. He can say he doesn't like something and refuse to eat, but he won't do that for long! 

$5 dinners

Mini Meatloaves from $5 Dinners

That approach worked for us, and I'm so glad that I stuck to my guns. If I hadn't, we'd either be eating chicken and rice every night of the week to appease them or dealing with tantrum after tantrum at the dinner table. Neither of those options appealed to us.

Click on Mini-Meatloaves to get this week's Toddler Meal, courtesy of Erin Chase of $5 Dinners.

Check back next Thursday for another great recipe. Got a favorite toddler friendly meal or snack of your own to share with other idea-strapped mamas? Let me know about it and I may feature it here.

Past Toddler Meals:

Alex Guarnaschelli's Homemade Granola

Happy Face Baked Pancakes

Yogurt Fruit Salad

Vegetarian Chili

Fruit Salsa With Cinnamon Crisps

Taco Cups

Sweet-and-Sour Chicken

Italian Goulash

Parmesan Risotto

Chicken Sausages

Easy Quesadillas

Barbecue Cups

Healthy Ketchup

Cinnamon Raisin Roll-Ups

Hot Dogs with Mashed Potatoes