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Quick + Healthy Toddler Dinners – Recipe Included

December 10, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Quick + Healthy Toddler Dinners – Recipe Included | Fruits and vegetables on forks.

If you are a working parent like me, the last thing you want to do when you get home from work is cook an elaborate dinner. And if you are a working parent with a child like my son, you need to have dinner ready ASAP to avoid a total meltdown (him, not me). In the limited time between daycare pickup and bed time, it can be tempting to just zip through the drive-thru for some chicken nuggets or pick up a sandwich at the nearest sub shop. While this is fine for an occasional treat, it might not be the best way to introduce healthy food habits to your child (never mind the effect it has on your wallet).

Here are a few tips and tricks for getting a healthy, balanced meal on the table for your demanding toddler in no time:

The key to cooking meat is to plan ahead. Buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and carve it into toddler-sized portions. It will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days or two to six months in the freezer. You could also buy some ground sirloin and form it into toddler-sized hamburger patties that you can quickly cook on an indoor grill. Uncooked patties can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days and in the freezer for up to four months. Cooked patties will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator and up to four months in the freezer. (Check out for additional information on food storage.)

Your freezer can also be your best friend when it comes to vegetables. Buy bags of frozen peas, carrots, corn, or beans and heat in the microwave. Many brands offer “steam in the bag” packaging for convenience. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days, so you can use the entire bag over the course of the week. Alternatively, you could buy a simple microwaveable steamer at any kitchenware store and use it to steam individual portions of fresh or frozen veggies in half the time it takes to steam them on the stove.

Grains and starches
The main trick here is, again, to plan ahead. Roast and mash one to two sweet potatoes on Sunday night, and you have three to four servings that you can reheat during the week. Cook an adult-sized serving of whole-wheat pasta or brown rice and toss with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese. This will be enough for three to four toddler-sized servings. For an extra dose of veggies with your starch, try Dr. Praeger’s pancakes (available in the frozen aisle at most large supermarkets)—an absolute favorite of my son’s!

Mom and dad’s leftovers
Finally, if you eat dinner after your toddler goes to bed, simply make extra of whatever you’re having and reheat it for your child the next day. The following recipe is a staple in my household and is enjoyed by grown-ups and kids alike:

Pasta Dish
(serves two adults with leftovers for two to three toddler meals)

8 oz. whole grain penne or rotini pasta

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 red bell peppers, chopped

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 9–12 oz. package sun-dried tomato & basil chicken sausage links, sliced and then cut in half (good brands are Sausages by Amylu or Trader Joe’s)

¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions (eliminating salt and fat). Drain. While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add peppers and Italian seasoning and sauté for five minutes, until peppers begin to soften. Add chicken sausage and cook until lightly browned. Stir in the drained pasta and Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.


Recipe: Quinoa Pizza Bites

August 29, 2014

Article and Photographs by Jessica Vician

Recipe: Quinoa Pizza Bites | Three quinoa pizza bites sit on a plate with a side of marinara sauce.

A few months ago, a co-worker told me a story. One day, her six-year-old nephew realized that the meat he was eating—chicken, beef, pork—came from an animal that used to be alive. This concept upset him so much that he immediately declared, “I’m not eating meat anymore.”

At first, the family thought he would forget about it within a few days, but several months later, he’s still holding strong. Knowing that I follow a pescetarian diet (the only “meat” that I eat is sustainably-caught fish and seafood), my co-worker asked me for vegetarian recipes that her nephew might enjoy. I told her the first thing the family should do is introduce quinoa to his diet, since quinoa is a great source of non-animal protein, which is something her nephew would be lacking without consuming meat.

My favorite quinoa recipe for kids is for quinoa pizza bites. They’re a good source of protein and vegetables with the kid-friendly convenience of handheld delicious eating. My co-worker and her nephew made them that weekend and even he loved them!

I made these with mushrooms and spinach, but you can add any vegetable you want, as long as it’s chopped into small pieces (when dealing with picky eaters, I find that the smaller the vegetable is chopped, the more likely it is to be eaten). I’ve modified the original recipe, but it used pepperoni, which would work for the meat-eaters of the group.

Ingredients include: cremini mushrooms, shredded sharp cheddar, quinoa, red pepper flakes, eggs, spinach, salt, garlic, spinach, and marinara sauce.

Quinoa Ingredients
½ cup quinoa
1 cup water
¼ tsp. salt

Remaining Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
8 cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 handfuls of fresh spinach
3 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Marinara sauce to serve

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water until the water runs clear.

The quinoa and water start to boil.

In a small pot, add quinoa, water, and the ¼ tsp. salt and bring to a boil.

Cooked quinoa.

Once boiling, cover the pot and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed.

While the quinoa is cooking and the oven is preheating, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Lightly sautéed spinach.

In a skillet, coat the pan with the olive oil. Add the fresh spinach and lightly sauté until just starting to wilt. Leaving as much oil/moisture in the pan as possible, put the spinach in a medium bowl.

Sautéed mushrooms.

In the same pan, lightly sauté the mushrooms until they start to brown. Drain and discard the liquid and add the mushrooms to the bowl with the spinach in it.

The quinoa, vegetable, egg, and cheese mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk the two eggs gently. Add the eggs, garlic, basil, cheddar, ½ tsp. salt, and red pepper flakes (if using) to the medium bowl with the mushrooms and spinach. Add the cooked quinoa when it’s done and mix all these ingredients together.

The quinoa pizza bites in the muffin tin ready to go into the oven.

Lightly grease a muffin tin and add a large spoonful of the mixture to each muffin cup. Press down on the mixture gently to ensure it reaches the bottom of the pan.

The cooked quinoa pizza bites after coming out of the oven.

Bake for 20-35 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the accuracy of your oven temperature and how much of the mixture is in each cup. Use a rubber spatula to scoop the bites out after they have had about three minutes to cool outside of the oven.

Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.

The quinoa pizza bites served with marinara sauce.


Recipe: Healthy Mac n’ Cheese

May 29, 2014

Article and Photographs by Libby VanWhy

Healthy macaroni and cheese with roasted vegetables.

What’s more American than mac n’ cheese? It can be dressed up or down, eaten as a main or side dish, and reheats well as leftovers.

Growing up, my mom made the most amazing baked mac n’ cheese-- it was all about the extra sharp cheddar. She served it as the main dish, usually with a mushy boiled vegetable on the side and stewed tomatoes for the top. My family loves this recipe so much that my sister shared it with The American Recipe Project.

I love all kinds of mac n’ cheese, from the boxed orange stuff to decadent meat and cheese combinations. Unfortunately most recipes-- my family recipe included-- are not very healthy. They’re usually high in fat, loaded with salt and butter, and far from filling. I’ve had a hard time finding anything that falls into the “healthy” category that tastes great and satisfies my need for cheese, until recently.

My mom recommended this recipe and each time I make it, I improve upon the original recipe. I have now perfected a healthy mac n’ cheese by adding a bunch of roasted vegetables and lower-fat dairy products. Below is my adaptation based on the original recipe:

Ingredients include red pepper, red and yellow onions, zucchini, eggplant, whole wheat macaroni, carrots, oil, and more.

3 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 zucchini, trimmed and chopped

2 yellow squash, trimmed and chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 eggplant, cubed

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

½ sweet onion, cut into wedges

½ red onion, cut into wedges

¼ cup chicken broth (fat-free, low sodium)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Cheese Sauce Ingredients
3 tablespoons canola oil

⅓ cup whole-wheat flour

3 cups fat-free milk

2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard

2 cups shredded, reduced fat, sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated, reduced fat, Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ cups uncooked whole-wheat macaroni

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss together vegetables, broth, thyme, salt, and black pepper.

Roasted vegetables

Spread the mixture in a single layer on a large baking sheet, lined with foil. Roast for 35 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Make the cheese sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.

Slowly whisk in the milk and continue whisking gently until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

Add the mustard, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat.

The macaroni boils while the cheese sauce and roasted vegetables sit to the side.

Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in the boiling water until al dente (read al dente instructions from package for time).

Combine the macaroni, cheese sauce, and vegetables.

Drain well and add to the cheese sauce. Add the roasted vegetables and stir to combine.

Pour mixture into a large casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until bubbly and the top is crusty, about 20 minutes.

The finished product: delicious healthy mac n' cheese!

Tags :  recipehealthy eatingphysicalhealth