Healthier meals for kids needn’t be a challenge. Here are five easy ideas that will help you on your way to making simple, tasty and nutritious meals the whole family will love.
A Better Tomato Sauce
Healthier meals for kids need not be a challenge. When looking for a quick and easy dinner to rustle up, many parents resort to pasta with tomato sauce. It quickly keeps those tiny tummies quiet, and all the carbohydrates help to refuel their energy. However, it can be made much healthier than the typical white refined pasta dish. First, if you normally use white refined pasta, switch to a more wholesome option. There are delicious varieties available made of spelt, kamut, quinoa, brown rice, chickpeas and edamame. If your children are particularly fussy, start with kamut or rice varieties, which are the same colour as the pasta they are used to, and then expand their tastes from there.
Second, try batch making your “red sauce” one Sunday a month and freezing it in small portions, so you only need what you use each meal. This will help you to avoid buying one that is full of added sugar. Rather than just making your sauce with tomato and onion, I use this as an opportunity to get plenty of healthy extras added in. Chop up vegetables like carrots, peppers, zucchini, aubergine or butternut squash, roast them or sauté them briefly first, and then add them to your tomato base. I usually throw mine all in the Vitamix or use a hand blender to puree it all together. It’s like magic when all the extra veggies disappear and all your kids see is their favourite tomato sauce.
Porridge is an ideal way to start your child’s day, but having the same thing every morning can become boring. What I’ve found keeps things interesting is to vary the grains you use to make the morning meal and then adding different “extras” to give the bowl of porridge a unique character. I always use gluten-free jumbo oats as my base; then I choose from a mix of other grains like millet, quinoa, polenta, and amaranth.
I never use them all at once – I just choose two or three to use together at a time. Then I mix in toppings from a selection of desiccated coconut, dried cranberries, almonds, flax seeds, raisins, walnuts or fresh blueberries to give it lots of added flavour and texture. At the end, I sprinkle some cinnamon, a dash of vanilla extract and breakfast is done.
Non-Fried Fish Fingers and Chicken Tenders
Nearly every child likes fish fingers and chicken tenders, but breaded coating and deep frying really isn’t the best option for our kids. There is a way to make this dinner hit more nutritious though. For fish fingers, I use cod (or any fresh white fish) and organic chicken for the tenders. Chop both into small pieces then my batter involves two simple stages. First whisk one free-range, organic (ideally) egg, which you then dip the fish and chicken into. This acts as a binder.
I then dredge the meat and fish in my “breading”, which instead of using wheat-based breadcrumbs for, I mix together almond flour, coarse grain polenta, a sprinkle of black pepper, salt and whatever herbs you like. I then place them on a baking sheet and drizzle some olive oil over the top. Then pop them in the oven to bake at 175C-200C until they are crispy on the outside and cooked but still moist on the inside.
A fun night at our house is Mexican burrito dinner, but these are not your average refried bean and cheese burritos we’re eating. To prep, I chop up all the ingredients, put them into bowls or lay them out on a cutting board, then we all pick and choose what we want to go in our wraps, which are either multi-grain or one of the many wheat-free options now available.
To fill these meals with goodness, my choices are usually: cooked quinoa, brown ore red rice, black beans, pinto beans, chopped onion, grated cheese, corn kernels, avocado (chopped or smashed), sliced green and red peppers and chopped tomatoes. Sometimes that varies depending on what I have in the house but those are the staples. It’s a delicious, nutritious – and sometimes messy – family dinner.
A plate of raw, chopped veggies is a great afternoon snack for adults and kids alike, but let’s be honest you need more than that to entice most little ones to start munching. The trick is in the dip! Hummus is the obvious favourite, which is super easy to make and even easier to pick up at any grocery store. If you do make your own, try adding different flavours like cumin, paprika, turmeric, roasted red peppers or extra lemon and see if they like the new tastes.
Beyond that, there are endless healthy dips you can quickly whip up on the weekend and have ready for the week ahead. A few of my kids’ favourites are white bean dip, artichoke and feta dip, sesame dip, sweet potato dip, yoghurt, tahini dip, and traditional aubergine baba ganoush. Get creative with your dips and the raw veggies will disappear.