Kids aren’t always wild about veggies as a side dish. So I try and add diced or pureed veggies to everything I can, including main dishes like meatloaf and desserts like brownies. Or take this pasta dish: It’s rigatoni with meatballs, but I added diced red peppers during the last minute of cooking. Then I slathered on the marinara sauce and meatballs (cooked separately). With all the chunks of sweet tomatoes incorporated into the sauce, the kids didn’t even notice the peppers. But they did get a boost of vitamin C.
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I have a sweet tooth, so my favorite part of a meal is dessert. In addition to being sweet and fabulous, though, dessert can be a great strategic player in helping picky eaters becoming more adventurous. And I don’t mean in the old-school “clean your plate so you can eat dessert” sort of way.
Here are five dessert strategies that I use in our household to combat picky eating:
1. Encourage an adventurous palate.
Most kids love dessert. So if you serve a child who loves cookies a new kind of cookie (say, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie instead of her normal favorite gingersnap), she will probably dig it. And then you can have a conversation about how fun it was to try something new. (If she doesn’t go for the swap, no big deal, because dessert is an optional course; there’s no risk of you caving in and becoming a short-order cook.)
Our kids love eggs. We make hard-boiled eggs with bunny faces for breakfast and snacks all the time. But now we’ve moved on to a lunchtime classic: egg salad sandwiches. The kiddie update? Pickles. These sandwiches are simple: just eggs, real mayonnaise, a squirt of mustard and diced dill pickles. High-protein, easy to prepare and even easier on your wallet, these have become a lunchtime staple for the preschool set at our place. Try them with your kids this week.
Whether it’s because of an A+ spelling test, a hat trick on the soccer field or a pristinely cleaned bedroom, every child — and grownup — deserves to be treated to something special once in a while, and for many kids, that surprise may come in the form of dessert. Instead of resorting to store-bought goodies to save time in the kitchen, stick with from-scratch treats, like these homemade desserts, ready to eat in mere minutes.
A single-serving indulgence that demands no baking at all, Food Network Magazine’s Instant Chocolate Cake (pictured above) is a family-friendly pick that takes just 10 minutes to make. This rich, moist cake is prepped with traditional pastry ingredients, like cocoa, flour and vanilla extract, but it’s cooked quickly in the microwave instead of the oven. Perhaps the best part about this go-to recipe is that all of the ingredients are simply stirred — without the help of a mixer — in the same oversize mug in which it’s served.
Getting kids to eat spaghetti probably isn’t too hard, but night after night it can be a bit dull. That’s why I like to throw a few surprises at the little guys when I can — especially when it’s this easy to make a big impression. Here’s how:
Cook spaghetti for 3 minutes less than the package suggests and drain. Add marinara sauce (you don’t even have to heat it up), plus one lightly beaten egg. Butter a muffin pan and fill each cup with half a cup or so of pasta and sauce, then use your fingers to push the pasta up along the edges, making a well in the middle. Pop the pan into the hot oven at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes. During the last minute, add two small mozzarella balls to the “nest” and you’ll have eggs. Keep an eye on the nests and if they melt down, that’s OK — now you have snowcapped mountain-tops.
While intricately prepared dishes with multiple components may be exciting to cook for special occasions or weekend projects, busy school nights are no time to commit to making a complicated meal. On these hectic evenings when you feel especially pressed for time, stick with all-in-one dishes to guarantee a stress-free dinnertime. These one-dish offerings have multiple meal parts — like proteins, starches and vegetables — which means that you can serve your family a complete dinner by prepping only one recipe.
Kids and kids-at-heart appreciate the creamy comfort of melted cheese and potatoes, which makes Food Network Kitchens’ Cheesy Gnocchi Casserole with Ham and Peas (pictured above) a family-friendly staple. This go-to supper is a cinch to prepare in a hurry, as there’s no need to roll gnocchi from scratch. Just pick up a package of the store-bought variety, combine with deli ham and frozen peas, then top with Swiss cheese to create a simple dinner full of tried-and-true flavors.
We make breakfast for dinner all the time because it’s easy, inexpensive and the kids love eggs, so I know it will be a peaceful evening. But since most people don’t eat a side of broccoli with breakfast, it can be tricky to figure out where a veggie comes in. (In fact, kids often have a hard time eating a side of broccoli at dinnertime anyway.) So, I say mix it right in.
Get a bag of broccoli slaw — easily available at grocery stores (a fact I happily discovered after moving back to the United States from Rome this year) — and use an oven-safe saute pan to cook the green stuff on the stovetop along with two slices of bacon (cut into small pieces) and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Add 8 eggs that have already been whisked together with 1/2 cup of milk, then put the whole thing in the oven to finish off. I bake it at 375 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes. When it’s puffy and golden, it’s done — and so are you.
School finally started up again here in New York City, and with it came the reality that I’ll have to pack 500+ lunches between now and the end of June 2014. Given the alternative of the poor-quality food offered at my daughters’ elementary school, I’m thankful I can provide them with a healthy lunch on my own. The task is still daunting, though, and it’s hard to stay inspired when I’ve been on this lunchbox merry-go-round for five years now. As luck would have it, Catherine McCord’s new cookbook, Weelicious Lunches, arrived on my doorstep when we came home after the first day of school. It remedied my lunchbox blues and reminded me that every day I get the chance to send my girls off with a little reminder that Mommy loves them.
Here are a few tips and tricks I keep in mind when psyching myself up for the lunch challenge during the week.
Food Network’s Melissa d’Arabian, Catherine McCord of Weelicious.com and Dan Pashman of CookingChannelTV.com’s Web series, Good to Know, chatted about all things back-to-school, tailgating and autumn cooking. Click the play button on the video above to watch, and follow Food Network on Google+ to join the conversation.
I don’t make a lot of casseroles, but I do bake many muffins. This idea combines both — and it made an otherwise ho-hum dinner something so special that our 4-year-old is still talking about it. And that was a week ago.
Mix up 3 cups freshly grated zucchini with 1 cup cottage cheese, 2 cups cooked brown rice, 1 cup grated cheese, lots of fresh herbs, salt, pepper and one hard-working egg — then pour the whole thing into oversize muffin tins instead of a casserole dish. Bake them at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes, then invert the “muffins” onto tiny plates. Add one homemade flag (bamboo skewer + painter’s tape) and ta-da! A casserole becomes a castle.