Pantry with Cerebelly Pouches

Stock Up! 15+ Healthy Items to Always Have on Hand for Growing Brains

By Stacey Segal, RD

Feeding time for your kiddo can pose a number of challenges, but providing them with the nutrients their growing brain needs doesn’t need to be one of them. Having some key ingredients in your pantry, fridge and freezer can make preparing fresh food for kids much easier. Peek in your own kitchen, do a little inventory and make some space – because you’re going to want to stock up on these nutritious, “do anything” ingredients. 

As a Pediatric Dietitian, here’s my list of versatile foods to help inspire ‘simple’ meals, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.   

The Fridge

Milk or milk alternative

Your choice of milk or milk alternative is a staple to always have around. Not only is it a protein packed drink for older children (after 1yr of age) to have with or after their lunch; it is also a nutrient dense ingredient.  If you choose a milk alternative like oat milk, almond milk or soy milk, make sure they are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and are unsweetened. Note that often milk alternatives may not have as much fat or protein as 2% cow’s milk.

Tips to use: Mix in oatmeal, scrambled eggs, sauces, smoothies and soups. Use for pancakes, muffins, frozen yogurt popsicles. The functionality and versatility of milk is limitless.

Whole fruit

No surprise that fruit is a must-have on my list of foods to keep on-hand, but here’s why. Fruit is a source of vitamins, fiber and, in their whole form, can help keep your little one hydrated due to their high water content. Buying the types of fruit that are in-season can keep costs down.

Tips to use: Serve fresh fruit ‘on the side’ at mealtime. Alternatively, fruit can be mixed into oatmeal, or pureed and used to sweeten almost anything. Avoid offering fruit on its own as a meal. As a snack it’s best to offer along with a protein food, such as yogurt, crackers/hummus, or cheese. Fruit can be offered as a treat too! Our household considers fruit a dessert because of its sweet, tart, bold taste that is so satisfying.

Cheese

If you were to ask me what is so great about cheese, I would probably fill this whole page! To start, it is an excellent source of calcium, fat and protein. Cheese is great for kids who are learning how to eat solids and enjoy new textures. There are SO many types of cheese out there, so try to mix it up (offering the same taste all the time can lead to picky eating). You can find lactose free or dairy free cheeses too (in the case of intolerances or allergies).

Tips to use: There are so many ways to use cheese as part of a simple meal for a nutritional boost – sliced, cubed or grated with a meal; melted into milk/butter/flour for cheese sauce; melted onto crackers, bread or vegetables; or added to eggs.

The Freezer

Frozen avocado chunks

When it comes to frozen fruit, avocado probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, avocado surprisingly freezes beautifully and is a great staple to keep on hand (goodbye not ripe or overripe counter avocados!) Avocado is an incredible source of healthy fat and fiber, making it the perfect addition to almost any meal.

Tips to use: Defrost and serve with a meal; keep in chunks or mash. Delicious mixed with Cerebelly Black Bean Sweet Potato puree too!

Shredded meat

 No explanation needed here! Shredded meats & poultry are an excellent way to help give your little one iron and protein. Cooking meat/poultry and then shredding is meal prep that is worth the time!  You will thank yourself. Remember to always check that it is cooked through properly with a food thermometer to ensure safety.

Tips to use: Roast a few chicken breasts (bone-in, skin-on), when cooked take the skin off, and shred the meat off the bone. Cool. Freeze. Defrost as much as you need for a quick meal. Wonderful in soups, too!

Low-mercury fish

Fish is an often-forgotten food for children. But let me tell you, it is a nutrition powerhouse — an impressive source of healthy fats, protein, vitamin B12, and other B vitamins. Salmon is a great choice because it is rich in omega 3 DHA, a fat crucial for developing brains. Fish is also great for starting solids as it has a soft texture and (bonus) is very fast to cook.

Tips to use: Cut fish up into small pieces before freezing. Defrost as much as you need for a quick meal. Pan-cook or bake in minutes. Low mercury fish is preferred, like salmon, trout or sole.

Crushed tomatoes

So you are probably thinking this is in the wrong section, right? Nope! I love having crushed tomatoes on hand because it is such a great mild base for all sorts of added flavors — plus they are a wonderful source of Vitamin C. I don’t usually need the whole can, so freezing small portions is a great way to always have a little available for a quick meal. 

Tips to use: Open a can of crushed tomatoes (make sure they are preserved in water and no added salt). Divide into small portions and defrost as needed for sauces soups, cooking meat, dips. SO versatile and no pressure to use the whole can at once! 

Bone broth

Keeping chicken or beef bone broth in the freezer is a meal (and flavor) saver because it is such a versatile cooking liquid. Using broth instead of water for cooking rice or quinoa adds rich flavor and amps up the nutrition. Bone broth is an excellent source of protein. It freezes very well, which saves money, as you will waste less.

Tips to use: Use in place of water when cooking, or in soups. You don’t have to make your own. Buy ready-made broth and freeze in ice cube trays, then defrost as much as needed. 

Ice cube trays & silicone containers

Okay, so this one isn’t technically an ingredient, but trust me — it’s a game changer. Between meal prep, leftovers and ready to blend meals, this simple kitchen tool is an easy way to whip up homemade, healthy meals in a pinch (and save money by skipping the freezer aisle). 

Tips to use: Fill with leftover soup/purees/smoothies/sauces/anything liquid

Pantry with Cerebelly Pouches

The Pantry

Dried red lentils

If you aren’t familiar with red lentils, you’re missing out. This power legume is known for being a hearty staple in middle eastern cuisines due to its high protein and fiber content, making it both filling and nutritious.

Tips to use: Boil red lentils in water until soft. How you prepare and serve lentils will vary depending on the texture you are aiming for. This may depend on age or feeding ability.  Serve lentils mixed into pasta dishes, or puree for soup or sauces.

Cerebelly puree pouches

As a mother of young children (my babies are no longer babies, welp!), I value foods that I can use to balance their daily nutritional intake. Some meals end up being devoid of important nutrients that kids need for growth and development. That doesn’t mean I stop making those foods, it just means I need to find ways to incorporate the nutrients I know they require. For this reason, I love to keep Cerebelly pouches in my pantry because they are rich in the key nutrients I want and know can be difficult to ensure kids get. Nutrients like omega 3 DHA, iron, zinc, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, iodine, and more.

Tips to use: Mix the Butternut Squash Chicken Broth into mac & cheese or Pea Basil into pesto. Add White Bean Pumpkin Apple or Beet Carrot Blueberry into pancake mix for a vibrant twist, or squeeze some of the Black Bean Sweet Potato into a quesadilla.  

Nut or seed butter

There are many different nut and seed butters. Keep one or two on hand for a quick source of protein and healthy fats. A few examples are sunflower seed butter, almond butter, peanut butter, or pumpkin seed butter. Be sure to look for butters without added sugars or other unnecessary additives. 

Tips to use: Add to oatmeal or smoothies; or spread on crackers, bread or apple slices. Also great to add to baking recipes for an added protein boost! 

Rolled oats

Oats are a solid shelf-stable staple to have on hand. Aside from being a great source of prebiotic fiber and protein, oats are endlessly versatile. Quick or instant oats are a safer option than steel cut or rolled oats for babies if you are offering them semi-raw, because they are extensively heat-treated to prevent foodborne illness.

Tips to use: Not just for breakfast! Oatmeal can be lunch too. Prep a quick oatmeal with ½ boiled water and ½ hot milk, cinnamon if you like, and fruit. If evening is a quiet time for you (it could happen), try preparing overnight oats and use other ingredients you may have in the pantry such as ground flaxseed or chia seeds.

Olive oil

Despite often being thought of as ingredient to cook with, olive oil is a wonderful ingredient to add to your little one’s meals. A source of healthy monounsaturated fat, olive oil is a great mild tasting oil that mixes well with so many foods. The higher quality, the better!

Tips to use: Add to any savory meal, mix with veggies or use in baking (if recipe allows). For children who have a hard time gaining weight, this is a trick of the trade for adding calories in a healthy way. A little goes a long way, so a drizzle will do.

Fun shaped pasta

While it is important for your little one to have a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and protein foods, be sure not to skimp on the food group that gives them long-lasting energy — carbohydrates. Pasta can get a bad rep, but despite naysayers, it is an important source of energy that is critical for your baby’s growth. Look for whole grain or whole wheat pasta, and varieties enriched with iron. Change up the shape of pasta to keep your little one interested.

Tips to use: Be sure to cook pasta past al dente and choose the right shape for your child’s age to avoid choking hazards. Not sure what sauce to use? Try mixing Cerebelly purees with a little cream, season to your liking and done!

Want healthy, easy recipes?

Who doesn’t?! We are here to help your mealtime go a bit more smoothly. Check out our library of brain-healthy meals you can make with our Cerebelly pouches.

Have more questions? Send us an email at parentingisanart@cerebelly.com and we will be sure to get back to you!