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Catering to the Toughest Crowd: ‘Yummy Toddler Foods’ | Town&Gown


Amy Palanjian’s career has encompassed editorial work in the lifestyle and food spaces, working for household-name magazines across the country, and also as a freelancer. However, today, her work, done from her home in Port Matilda, is entirely focused on toddlers—or rather, feeding toddlers.

Palanjian launched her blog “Yummy Toddler Foods” nearly a decade ago. Originally, the website was, as she says, “just a hobby as a place … to be creative on [her] own terms.” Now, it’s her full-time job and has been for the last four years.

“Five years ago, I spent a year learning how to be a food blogger. I listened to every resource I could find. I had hit a point where I was like, if I’m going to be spending this much time doing it, I have to do it for real and this has to be a business,” she explains. “Thank you, it turned out really well.”

What is ‘Yummy Toddler Food?’

Palanjian’s success can be partially attributed to her unique niche, and how she managed to fill a void in the blogging world during a time when blogs were still relatively new—and Palanjian has her daughter to thank.

“The niche that I chose, I chose because I had my first daughter and she had turned one. At that time, there were just no resources for that in-between phase of ‘not a baby’ and ‘not a big kid.’ All the recipes I found for ‘kid food’ were too hard to chew. A lot of the recipes were sweeter than I necessarily wanted. I felt like there was a gap,” she says, adding, “Kids, when they’re one, two, and three, are learning their places in the world and finding their voices. The dynamics at the table really change. I didn’t feel like that was addressed anywhere either.”

With the goal of filling this online void in mind, Palanjian got started.

“With my background in recipe development, I just started putting recipes online. I didn’t know how to use a camera. I didn’t know anything about writing for the internet. I knew how to deliver a story and I knew how to write a recipe, so that was where I started,” she says.

Today, “Yummy Toddler Foods” features a near-endless number of recipes and resources for parents and families, alongside gorgeous photography. Palanjian also has a new cookbook coming out in August. Her main audience, she says, is busy families who want to feed their children nutritious, tasty foods, but maybe those parents aren’t confident in the kitchen, or they’ve been frustrated trying to feed their children new foods in the past.

While more toddler-focused cooking blogs may have arisen since she started “Yummy Toddler Foods,” Palanjian still makes herself stand out with one key difference: convenience.

“A lot of the recipes on my site are similar recipes that you might find elsewhere, but the difference is that my perspective is always [that of] the parent trying to cook with a toddler hanging on their leg,” she laughs. “How can I make there be less to chop? What is the ingredient that they might have in their kitchen that would simplify this?”

She adds, “[I use] really accessible, affordable ingredients that you can find at any store. [In] the small town where we lived in Iowa, we shopped at Walmart all the time and that gave me a unique perspective on the availability of groceries. While not everything can be universally accessible, I try to be really aware of the ingredients that I’m using. You’re not having to buy seventeen things that you would never use again, but you can combine five things you would find in any grocery store in a really delicious way and have an easy meal for the family.”

Behind the scenes of a food blog

Behind the scenes of “Yummy Toddler Foods,” Palanjian uses her editorial know-how to streamline her process and all the moving parts that are required for operating a one-woman online publication. She spends some days in the kitchen and some at her desk. She partners with a local photographer, meeting with them weekly to photograph several recipes at a time. Recipe development, social media management, updating old posts, working with brands for partnerships—it’s all part of the gig. To make things harder, it’s a job that’s constantly changing.

“It’s completely different than I could have expected [from the beginning],” says Palanjian. “No one was doing video content [then], the way they are now. I’ve evolved with it and rolled with the way the industry has changed.”

Palanjian’s pastina soup is quick and simple to make. (Photo by Matt Fern)

Similarly, the “Yummy Toddler Foods” brand has also evolved over the years. Now, rather than just focusing on cooking for toddler-age children, Palanjian creates recipes meant to be eaten by the entire family, so parents don’t necessarily need to cook one meal for their smallest children and another for everyone else.

“I try to have recipes that are easy for little kids to eat and are nutritionally appropriate, but that are delicious enough that the adults would also want to eat them,” Palanjian explains. “That has been a change, as my brand has grown and as my confidence in talking to my audience has grown. I think that’s also changed as I’ve become a more seasoned parent.”

She also notes how the growing importance of social media for her brand has created a more personal connection with her audience, as readers can see her in the kitchen, cooking the same foods she posts on the website.

Top tips for families

Over the years, Palanjian has grown her expertise in the world of all things to do with feeding toddlers and making that task easier for families, and she has a few pieces of advice for those who may be struggling to feed this particular age group.

Her first tip is to simply manage expectations.

“The gap between expectations of what will happen at meals and [what is] reality is so wildly off,” Palanjian says, noting that depictions in resources like what you might find at the pediatrician’s office don’t really prepare parents for what feeding a toddler is really like.

“Adults forget that they didn’t immediately know how to eat every food, and there is this expectation now that babies will eat everything we give them, and that that will continue throughout childhood. That’s just not the way little kids are, developmentally,” Palanjian adds. “They’re supposed to go through this phase where they’re questioning everything and they’re exploring what control and power they have. They’re supposed to learn how to say ‘no’ in all of these areas of their lives, [but] we don’t necessarily think it’s appropriate at the table.”

Along with this, Palanjian notes the importance of understanding the difference between a child being truly picky or just less hungry than a parent might expect.

She says, “A thing that catches a lot of parents off guard is that, during the one-year-old year, kids grow less rapidly than they do as babies, generally speaking, and so their appetites usually, or very often, go down. That’s the phase when parents start to call the kids picky, but they’re not actually picky. They’re just less hungry than a parent expects.”

She continues, “We know as adults that, sometimes, we sit down and we’re super hungry. Sometimes we sit down for a meal and we’re not that hungry. It’s really hard to predict someone else’s hunger. … It’s okay if your child doesn’t like everything right now. It’s okay if it takes time [for them] to learn. It doesn’t have to be your full-time job to ‘get your kid to eat.’ You can serve family meals and the child can choose what to eat from what you’ve served. … There are ways to make it less stressful.”

Overall, though, Palanjian points to the importance of family meals beyond merely meeting your child’s nutritional needs, or exposing them to new foods. While eating with a toddler might not always be a necessarily joyful experience, she says, mealtimes are a chance for families to be together and connect, something that can be rare.

Put Palanjian’s expertise to the test

Want to try some of Palanjian’s tried-and-tested, toddler-approved recipes? Palanjian mentions several popular recipes that have appeared on her site in the last few months. One is a moist and fluffy blueberry yogurt cake, which Palanjian describes as a “giant blueberry muffin” baked in an eight-by-eight pan. Another is her quick pastina soup, an Italian-American comfort classic featuring star-shaped pasta, celery, carrots, and onions in chicken broth. The recipe is incredibly simple, but just the thing for cold and flu season—which is likely why the recipe went viral on social media in the fall.

Yummytoddlerfood.com features these and other recipes. You can also pre-order Palanjian’s upcoming cookbook, Yummy Toddler Food: Dinnertime SOS, which comes out in August 2023 from Penguin Random House. The cookbook features a hundred kid-friendly dinners that each require just 20 minutes or less to make and is available for pre-order from most major retailers where books are sold. Until then, you can check out Palanjian’s prior cookbook, Food Play!, which encourages kids to get into the kitchen and learn about making their own food. T&G


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