'First Foods' offers healthful recipes for babies, toddlers

Arming even very young kids with healthy eating habits can help them grow into teens and adults who understand the impact that good nutrition makes on their minds and bodies. You can get them on the right track early on with guidance from reliable sources, such as a new book, First Foods, by dietitian and mom Carolyn Williams (Oxmoor House, $19.95).

Williams combines her professional and personal experiences, drawing on insights gained while raising her little one, to produce a book that helps you choose ingredients for preparing healthful, homemade meals for your baby and toddler. First Foods guides you from that time between breast- or bottle-feeding to soft foods and a varied diet.

More than 100 recipes fill the seven chapters, which include foods to make during the weaning months, those that introduce new textures and tastes, and meals that incorporate a wide selection of vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins. There's a chapter on lunchbox ideas, holiday meal planning and birthdays. Maybe best of all, there are plentiful recipes that the whole family will like, with adaptations you make for the baby's servings.

Extras in First Foods include a seasonal produce guide, nutritional analysis, cooking safety guidelines and details on the 13 babies and toddlers who served as taste-testers for Williams. Their adorable photos figure among 200 beautiful color images in the book, which includes very appetizing food shots.

Here's a sampling of dishes you can make for your precious ones.

Black bean quesadillas

For your toddler 2 to 3 years old, this recipe makes a fun finger-food meal, and it's one way to get your child to eat vegetables. You can let her help you by rinsing beans in a colander and placing tortillas on the baking sheet, and by sprinkling the grated cheese on the tortillas and bean mixture.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes (about 6 medium)

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups bagged baby spinach leaves

4 (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas

Cooking spray

1 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican blend cheese

1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. Preheat broiler. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and beans; saute 3 minutes. Add spinach; saute 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; mash beans slightly.

2. Place tortillas on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Top each tortilla with 1/2 cup bean mixture and 1/4 cup cheese. Fold in half. Lightly coat tops with cooking spray. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts and tortillas begin to brown.

3. Cut each tortilla into 3 wedges.

4. While quesadillas broil, combine corn and remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes or until warm, stirring frequently. Serve warm salsa with quesadillas.

Chicken, rice and tropical fruit salad

Here's a lunchbox recipe that travels well to Mother's Day Out and preschool in a resealable plastic dish. You can serve this chilled or at room temperature, and you can substitute lime juice for lemon. Serve with crackers and cucumber slices for your toddler and on top of romaine lettuce leaves for yourself.

1 cup uncooked basmati rice

2 cups cubed skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast

1 cup cubed fresh pineapple

1 cup sliced, peeled mango (see note)

1/2 cup seedless red grapes, halved

1/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Cool.

2. Combine rice with chicken, fruit and almonds.

3. Combine mint, lemon juice, oil and salt in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle mint mixture over rice salad and toss well. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Note: Mango can be fresh or you can use the variety from a jar, such as Del Monte SunFresh, drained.

Pumpkin dip

Another good recipe for your baby 18 to 24 months, this especially quick recipe makes a creamy treat for breakfast or dessert. Serve with peeled apple slices, banana slices or cinnamon pita chips. Be sure to buy canned pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling.

3/4 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Combine cream cheese, brown sugar and pumpkin in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add syrup and cinnamon and beat until smooth.

2. Cover and chill 30 minutes before serving.