Healthy Dinner Ideas Kids Will Actually Eat
12 kid-friendly and mom-approved dinner recipes.
Meal planning, although not always easy when families have busy schedules, is essential when trying to eat healthfully. You need to have the proper ingredients on hand in order to creating mouth-watering recipes. Before heading to the grocery store, prepare a list packed with foods that are both nutritious and meal-worthy. This will ensure that your fridge is always stocked with fruits, veggies, and lean proteins that you can plan meals around.
Also, allowing your child to actively participate in grocery shopping encourages them to try new foods. "Statistics show children are much more inclined to try and eat new foods if they've had the opportunity to help select the new item and they are afforded the opportunity to help prepare the meal," says Tanya Keser, Executive Director of Children and Nutrition Services in Casper, Wyoming.
Brainstorm meal ideas and create a calendar of five dinners to prepare each week. This makes the grocery shopping process easier and less time consuming, as you can do one weekly trip, rather than stopping at the store once a day. Involve your family, so they can voice opinions on which meals they prefer. Remember to consider all of the food groups, as each one is beneficial. "Children's dietary needs are not that different than an adult's. They need complex carbohydrates, lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables," explains nutritionist Katie Williams, who runs the website Healthy Nutrition Expert.
Check out our advice on what to do if you have a picky eater in your house: 12 Tricks to Fix a Picky Eater. And then get some inspiration with these tasty sample meal ideas:
1. Old-Fashioned Spaghetti and Meatballs
Substituting starches, like pasta and bread, with wheat alternatives makes a world of difference. This spaghetti and meatball recipe is a perfect example of a substitution that is not visible to children. What kids don't know doesn't hurt them (or result in a tantrum!) and, in this case, what they don't see can actually help them in the long run. Use whole-wheat spaghetti and whole-wheat breadcrumbs. Each serving is less than 500 calories and your family is still eating a traditional, recognizable meal.
2. Chicken with Southwestern Salsa
This recipe is both low in calories and family-friendly. The salsa is comprised of all-natural ingredients that are good for the body: corn, black beans and tomatoes. Rather than using an artery-clogging, creamy white sauce, the skinless chicken breast is drizzled in zesty lime juice.
3. Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
According to Joanne Larsen, a licensed dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, many people use blended vegetables in recipes for children who are vegetable adverse, but it depends on preference. "Children's taste buds are more sensitive than adult's, so children may prefer raw rather than cooked veggies," she says.
First Lady Michelle Obama recently introduced a book of healthy recipes straight from the White House kitchen, called American Grown. It includes a mac and cheese recipe that is a favorite of her two daughters. While cauliflower may not look appealing to young children, mac and cheese does. Get clever, with the help of the White House, and do some vegetable hiding.
4. Sweet Peas au Gratin
Famed chef Emeril Lagasse is the mastermind behind this 30-minute recipe. As cheese is one of the main ingredients, it helps mask the sweet peas. Choose a light cheese, light butter, skip the salt (if possible) and use whole wheat bread crumbs.
Nutritionist Katie Williams agrees that occasionally disguising healthy foods is necessary. "Ideally, parents should focus on encouraging an understanding of which foods are healthy and how important that is, but if a child has already decided they don't like vegetables, a blender will be a parent's best friend," she says.
5. Corn and Broccoli Calzones
Although a calzone may not sound like a health-nut's first choice, if you fill it with vegetables and make a few minor swaps, your family will enjoy a guilt-free meal. Canola oil is one of the better oil options to use when cooking and your children won't even notice the reduced-fat cheese.
6. BBQ Steak Wrap
As parents, it's your job to set a good example, so make the effort to eat foods that you want your child to eat. "What helps children accept new foods, especially veggies, are parents who smile when eating veggies and new food. Parents are the best role models for children's food habits," says Larsen. This BBQ steak wrap can be altered to use skinless chicken breast or barbecue-flavored beans for a vegetarian option.
7. Balsamic Pork and Apple Skewers
For some reason, food on a stick is an automatic win with people under the age of 10 (and above, too!). While the skewer itself is appealing to a child, a quick meal, ready in 30 minutes or less, is appealing to any parent. The only ingredients needed in this recipe: pork, apples, brown rice and a dressing or seasoning. It's a good basic recipe, with plenty of room for experimenting. If you don't have pork available, swap in chicken. If you don't have apples, swap in peppers or pineapple. The dressing is also versatile, as many light dressings will do the trick.
8. Caramelized Onion, Red Pepper and Zucchini Frittata
Filled with onions, peppers and eggs, this quiche-without-the-crust has an ideal combination of protein and antioxidants. The simple construction and low calories is an ideal combination for busy parents.
9. Fish and Avocado Tacos
Tacos are a finger food, and what kid doesn't enjoy dinner without utensils? Filling corn taco shells with tilapia is a smart way to mask a drive-thru favorite with a nutrient-enriched fish.
10. Pizza Meat Loaf
Pizza is a staple and has grown into a tradition for many families. Mix up the standard greasy pepperoni slice with pizza meatloaf. Use ground turkey and opt for part skim mozzarella to reduce calories and add lots of finely diced veggies.
11. Grilled Italian Meatball Burgers
A hamburger in disguise, this grilled recipe is a hit with both children and adults. Allow your children to dress the burger with whatever toppings they see fit -- make a toppings bar with an array of colorful vegetable options.
12. Chicken Stew With Mango
Chicken and mango isn't a common combination, but when mixed with vegetables and potatoes, it makes for a savory, heart-friendly soup. The soup is easy to puree and a smart dinner to freeze.
Keser suggests simple tips to creating a healthy lifestyle change for your children. "Variety is the spice of life. Color their world (offering plates with foods that have appealing colors), do some behind the scenes strategizing, set a good example, banish the bribing, stop the snacking, make sure fun is on the menu and know when to let go."
Work with your children, compromise, and persevere. "Anticipate power struggles and that children are trying to gain independence, even as toddlers. Keep presenting healthy foods over and over again and encourage your child to take a bite every time," says Keli Hawthorne, registered dietitian in pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine. "Make changes together as a family and recognize that small changes can add up to make a big difference." And remember to keep it consistent: remind the nanny that health is a priority in your house and that food isn't involved in any of your reward systems.
So, take the time to plan, keep the fridge stocked, and practice what you preach. It's all about trial and error and, with a system, feeding your family healthy dinner meals doesn't have to be difficult.
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Kelly Johnston is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in fashion retail and merchandising and a minor in journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @kellyfrancess. Her work can be found here.