SERVE THREE (YEAR-OLDS)
RETRIEVE the bowl placed on the dog's head by your toddler. Pour in one cup milk and add salt from the shaker just emptied out onto the table by curious fingers. Add remaining ingredients. Bake, cool, serve with pride - and have your Chicken Extraordinaire flung across the room after a fleeting taste.Skip to next paragraph
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Welcome to parenthood! You've just spent an hour chasing your toddler around the kitchen while preparing what looked like an enticing recipe only to face rejection. And with ever-shrinking family time in this age of two-parent employment, you can't afford to waste a moment. What's a mother - or father - to do?
When cooking for toddlers, simplify, simplify, simplify, advises Rena Coyle, author of ''Baby Let's Eat'' (Workman Publishing, 1987), a cookbook of easy recipes that's still in print after nearly a decade. ''Follow your instincts ... and cook food you're comfortable with. The recipes your mother made were simple recipes,'' says Ms. Coyle who is also a mom.
Maybe mother did know best. Those time-tested family recipes that easily made you a member of the clean-plate club are likely to be relished by your toddler, too.
Reinvent mom's recipes
Martha Kimmel, who teaches cooking for children, says she and her husband, David, drew upon their experiences when compiling recipes for ''Mommy Made *and Daddy too: Home Cooking for a Healthy Baby and Toddler'' (Bantam Books, 1990).
Their parents made many foods from scratch and ''emphasized home cooking as opposed to reaching into the freezer or off the grocery shelf,'' she says.
But the Kimmels insisted that their recipes be doable ''with a toddler crawling on the kitchen floor,'' she says, adding: ''It shouldn't take an epic amount of time to feed your family.''
Like many toddler-cookbook authors, the Kimmels suggest modernizing ''old timey'' recipes by reducing or eliminating refined sugars and flours and including less meat and fat.
''My mother used to take baked potatoes and make them into meals for us,'' Ms. Kimmel recalls. But instead of strictly following her mother's recipes for potatoes laced with ham, she folds broccoli puree into her ''Stuffed Spudniks'' (see recipe, right). Then she embellishes them with pea eyes, a carrot nose, and parsley hair to entice active toddlers.
''You might learn how to use your spices a little differently'' when cooking for tots, Coyle adds. Instead of using salt, she suggests lemon juice or zest, tarragon, or sesame seeds for flavor.
''Reinvent'' one of your mother's standbys for the '90s, agrees Cynthia Lair, author of ''Feeding the Whole Family'' (LuraMedia, 1994).
''Something I really liked when I was little was Sloppy Joes,'' she confesses. ''I took my mother's recipe off a card from the 1950s and made the recipe just like it was except instead of hamburger I used tempeh,'' a soy-based meat substitute.
She also suggests substituting sugar with pureed dates or raisins, frozen fruit-juice concentrate, or mashed fruit.