For generations, parents have been making children sit at the dinner table, long past dinner time, until they finished a plate of peas that have long gone cold. But is there another way? Today’s parents are getting creative in the kitchen, sending kids off to bed happy, and still managing to put more in their bellies than sugar and starch. How are they doing it?
As a mother of three, I have come to believe that most of the authors of ‘child-friendly’ recipes have not actually met a real child. Over the years, as I struggled to feed my own children healthy food, I have done Google search after fruitless Google search. I knew that my children were not going to eat risotto with peas and prawns or green pasta. If it looked “yucky” or was all mixed up, it just wasn’t going to happen.
When the internet failed me, I turned to my next best friend – common sense. “What do kids eat?” I asked myself. And the answer is, “they eat kid food”.
When you go to a family restaurant, 9 times out of 10 there is a separate children’s menu. Why? Because smart restaurateurs know that kids eat different things to adults. They eat macaroni and cheese, pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fish fingers and chips.
Realising this, the next logical step was to make ‘kid food’ – ‘healthy kid food’. This may seem implausible, but it is possible.
Tricks of the Trade
Before we dig into the food itself, I want to acknowledge that no matter how ‘kid-friendly’ a recipe is, if it’s new, it may be a hard sell. That’s why it’s important to introduce new foods and new recipes slowly. One per week might be a good place to start, or whatever pace your child feels comfortable with.
Another trick to help your child feel comfortable about trying new food is to invite them to cook with you and see how it’s made. The hardest part about this, for me, is having patience! When kids are in the kitchen, cooking always takes twice as long and ends up twice as messy.
There is much to learn about nutrition, but what it all boils down to is two words: whole foods. Stick to whole foods and you won’t go far wrong. What this means is foods that haven’t been processed; that don’t have any extra ingredients added. This means fruits, vegetables, nuts, nut butter and nut flour, legumes, and whole grains.
In the following recipes, you will find that most of the ingredients are whole foods, with the exception of pasta and pastry sheets.
Mac and Cheese
Let’s start with macaroni and cheese. A child favourite, with a little creativity this pantry staple is about to get elevated to ‘health food’ status.
Replacing cheese with veggies and cashews infuses this standard kid’s meal with vitamins A, E, K, and B-6, as well as minerals like magnesium, manganese, and iron. Nutritional yeast gives us that cheesy taste and boosts this meal’s nutritional profile even higher, by adding vital B-12. A body depleted of B-12 is at risk of becoming anaemic – a condition that makes us feel tired and weak.
In our house, we do Mac Monday – a routine that my children look forward to. Dish this bowl of cheesy goodness up and dinner is served. Serves 2 children.
- 2 medium gold potatoes
- 1 medium carrot
- A quarter of a white onion
- 75g raw cashews
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. nutritional yeast
Peel the potatoes and carrot. Chop into 25mm pieces. Boil potato pieces for 2 minutes. Add carrot pieces. Boil for 5 minutes. Add onion. Boil for 7 minutes or until soft. Save the water! Cook pasta in a separate pot. Blend the cashews, 375ml previously-boiled water, seasoning, salt, and nutritional yeast. Pour over pasta and enjoy!
You can make this meal even healthier by using chickpea pasta. But realistically, most kids won’t eat that. We have to be grateful that at least we’ve made the ‘cheese’ sauce healthy. In the journey of parenting, we learn to celebrate the little wins and to not sweat the small stuff.
Fish and Chips
The next kid food we’re tackling is fish and chips. This meal isn’t inherently unhealthy, as fish and potatoes provide lots of essential nutrients any way it is cooked. However, there are ways to update even the most traditional meals with a little modern magic.
This particular update was inspired by Paleo, Keto, and grain-free trends. Whether you’re on a grain-free diet or not, grain-free meals are often more nutritionally-dense than their grain-heavy counterparts.
Perfect for dipping in mayonnaise mixed with minced sweet pickles. Serves 2 children.
- 1⁄2 lb cod
- 96g almond flour
- 128g arrowroot starch
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 125ml sparkling water
- 2 medium potatoes
- 218g coconut oil
Heat two pans of coconut oil (divided) over medium heat. To make the batter, crack the eggs into a bowl with the almond flour, starch, salt, and sparkling water. Whisk until batter is thick and sticky. Cut the fish to your preferred sizes. Coat the fish pieces in batter and fry for 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Cut the potatoes into chips-shaped pieces and fry for 5 minutes or until golden brown.
You’ve probably heard of vegan hot dogs, but have you heard of carrot dogs? They’re a popular hot dog alternative that leaves unfamiliar ingredients such as vital wheat gluten and soy out of it and just sticks to carrots.
In this recipe, carrot dogs get dressed up pigs ‘n blankets-style, for a healthy treat your kids are sure to enjoy!
Great for dipping in mustard or ketchup. Serves 2 children.
- 235ml vegetable broth
- 60ml apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. mustard powder
- 1⁄2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1⁄2 tsp. coriander
- 1⁄2 tsp. black pepper
- 1⁄2 tsp. liquid smoke
- 1 bag of baby carrots
- 2 cans of ready-rolled filo pastry sheets
To make the marinade, combine the vegetable broth, apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar, soy sauce and spices in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Put baby carrots into a baking tray. Pour the marinade over the baby carrots, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 220°C. Bake the carrots for 30 minutes. Unroll the pastry sheets and cut each into appropriately-sized triangles for the carrots. Roll the baby carrots up into their blankies. Pop them back in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon
At the end of the day, when all the little bellies are full and all the dinner dishes are done, it feels good to know that our children have not only eaten, but they have eaten well!
May those little bellies enjoy these yummy dinners for many healthy days to come.