Making Better Veggie-Packed Meals Your Kids Will Actually Enjoy
Words Megan Gordon
Most of our friends have small kids at home, and we hear a lot of chatter about living with toddlers…a lot of it focused around food, making healthy meals for kids and getting them to actually eat a vegetable. While there’s certainly no easy answer, in our few years at home with our son Oliver, I’ve gleaned some tips that really do alleviate the stress and help us to eat better veggie-packed meals, toddler and all. Here’s what works in our house:
Prep Your Veggies in Advance
I know, I know. The last thing you probably feel like doing when you get home from the store or farmers market is to wash and prep your veggies. But I assure you, you’re more likely to pull them out for snacks or incorporate them into meals if they’re all ready to roll. I use our small colander to quickly wash vegetables and tomatoes, and I chop kale or other hearty greens to use in salads, scrambles or grain bowls.
Organize the Fridge to Make Veggies Accessible
In addition to washing and prepping your veggies when you get home from the store, I love organizing the fridge so veggies are easy to find and neatly contained. For this, we love our GreenSavers, which help preserve the life of fruits and veggies and also corral them all into their own compartments. Oliver transfers the produce into the GreenSavers (toddlers love nothing more than moving things from one container to another!) and this creates a bit of buy-in, too, as he feels he’s helping with the meal.
Tweak Your Favorite Recipes
I hear a lot of talk about sneaky ways to work vegetables into your child’s meals and, while I always want to maximize the fresh fruits and veggies Oliver’s eating, I’m also a little adverse to the whole sneaky approach. In our house, I find a lot of the aversion comes from texture and his preconception that he doesn’t like an isolated veggie rather than not liking the taste, so we talk a lot about which veggies are in each recipe, subbing cauliflower for rice or sweet potatoes into muffins or pancakes. It’s less about hiding, I guess, and more about incorporating vegetables into things Oliver already likes.
Put Veggies on Every Plate
We just got our produce CSA box this week and for whatever reason, it came with five yellow peppers. I was talking to my husband about what we were going to do with them, and we both realized our son had never tried a yellow pepper. Or a red one, for that matter. Like many parents, we get in a rut of putting things in front of Oliver that are nutritious that we know he’ll like, but it’s a good reminder to keep shooting for variety and putting different veggies on the plate, even if your kiddo won’t eat them right off the bat. The variety and exposure is important and, eventually, will probably lead to some sneaky little tastes and, hopefully, some new affinities.
Pasta with Creamy Spinach Pesto and Peas
A simple spring recipe for adults and kids alike, this tasty pasta features a nut-free pesto so everyone, regardless of allergies, can enjoy it. It packs in spinach and peas, and even incorporates some protein thanks to the ricotta and Parmesan cheese. Depending on how much pesto you like on your noodles, you’ll likely have a little leftover, and I love using it as a veggie dip or sandwich spread throughout the week.
For the pesto:
1 1/2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1 1/2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
For the pasta:
1 pound fusilli pasta (or your favorite shape pasta)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Make the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, puree the basil, spinach, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Add the ricotta and lemon zest, and pulse to incorporate, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. If the texture is too thick, add olive oil, one tablespoon at a time. Taste and adjust the seasoning, as needed.
Make the pasta: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl, tossing with olive oil to keep it from sticking together.
Add 1 cup of pesto to the pasta and stir well to incorporate. Fold in the peas and Parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning if desired. Add additional pesto if desired. Serve warm or room temperature.
Note: store leftover pesto in the refrigerator for up to four days. Freeze leftovers by packing it into small, airtight containers.