By Jen Zarrilli, MS, RD

If you’re looking for a fun activity with kids that doubles as a healthy habit, your kitchen is a great place to start.

Making healthy recipes together is a way to get your child excited about nutrition, teach them important skills and share quality time – all while preparing a delicious snack, meal or dessert.

Jen Zarrilli, MS, RD – a pediatric dietitian and Connecticut Children’s manager of Clinical Nutrition – joins the blog with recipes and tips from her own kitchen.

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Pumpkin Mini Muffins

Kids might be more willing to try new foods if they have the chance to name the recipe. In our house, we call these mini muffins “do-dos.” I love cooking with pumpkin – it’s a great source of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and many other antioxidants. I particularly like this recipe because it uses a whole can of pumpkin per batch.


  • 1 ¾ cup flour (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable or mild tasting oil
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 can (16 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup milk


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray mini muffin tin with nonstick spray.
  • Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium-size bowl.
  • Mix the remaining ingredients in another bowl.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture. Then, fold together until just mixed – be careful not to overmix.
  • Spoon the batter into the mini muffin tins until each cup is three-fourths full.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the mini muffin. Cool to room temperature before serving.


I typically use all-purpose flour, but you can mix it up and use 1 cup all-purpose flour and ¾ cup whole-wheat flour for extra fiber. Sometimes, if I have it, I will mix 1 cup all-purpose flour with ¾ cup baby oatmeal cereal, which adds more nutrients including iron and zinc.

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Butternut Squash Soup

Soup is satisfying any time of the year, but butternut squash soup is a foolproof fall favorite and easy to make on the healthier side. Try this flavorful, savory version and resist the temptation to sweeten it with sugar like many do.


  • 2 (2-3-pound butternut squash), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (5 to 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (about 6 large leaves)
  • 6-8 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  • Preheat oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons of the salt, and the pepper. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in oven for 15 minutes. Turn the cubes over and continue roasting for 15 minutes or until they are caramelized; set aside.
  • In a Dutch oven or a large stockpot, heat the butter and the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and sage and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent and tender, 10 minutes. Add the squash, broth (to just covering the butternut squash mixture), and the remaining salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid is flavorful. Remove from heat.
  • Using a blender or a food processor, blend the soup in batches until smooth. You can also blend with a hand blender. 
  • Remove about 2 cups of the puree mixture and set aside and refrigerate.
  • Return the rest of the blended soup to the pot and add the rest of the chicken broth to thin out to desired consistency

Butternut Squash Pasta with Spinach and Sausage

Have leftover butternut squash soup? Be resourceful and use it for this unique take on pasta that “ticks all the boxes.”


  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1, 12-oz box of whole wheat pasta
  • 1 package of chicken sausage
  • 1 bag of baby spinach (thawed frozen spinach is also okay)
  • 2 cups reserved puree from the soup
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup milk (optional)
  • Chopped pecans or walnuts as garnish


  • Heat sauté pan over medium heat, add oil. Cut chicken sausage into round slices.  Add to pan and brown on each side, about three minutes per side.
  • While chicken sausage is browning bring a large stockpot of water to a boil.
  • Once the water is boiling add pasta and cook according to package directions.
  • Before you drain the pasta, reserve about 1 cup of pasta water.
  • Place baby spinach in the bottom of a colander.
  • Dump the pot with water and pasta into the colander, this will wilt the spinach.
  • Return the pasta and spinach to the pot.
  • Keep stockpot on medium heat.
  • Add the two cups of reserved butternut squash puree to pot, mix well.
  • Add parmesan cheese and milk (if want to thin out sauce), stir to combine.
  • Use remaining pasta water to thin sauce to desired consistency- you will not need all of it.
  • Mix in cooked chicken sausage
  • Add chopped pecans or walnuts as a garnish for serving if desired.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

My kids love to help prepare this salad! I’ll task my 3- and 5-year-old with washing the beans and corn, scooping the drained veggies from the strainer into a bowl and mixing all the ingredients together. If your kids are younger than 4 years old, you should mash the beans and corn as they can be choking hazards.


  • 1 can (16 ounces) corn
  • 1 can (16 ounces) black beans
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Rinse corn and black beans in cold water and place into mixing bowl.
  • Add juice from one lime.
  • Finely chop cilantro and onions and add to bowl.
  • Top with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Baked Chicken Tenders

There are a variety of ways to make baked chicken tenders or chicken nuggets from scratch. This recipe calls for eggs, flour and Italian breadcrumbs. I opt for whole eggs because they’re a great source of iron, choline, fat and zinc. If you are looking for ways to decrease calories, I would suggest using egg whites, cutting out the flour and opting for cornflakes or whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs for a nice crunch.

My kids love to help with this recipe, but given the risk of food-borne illness from raw chicken and eggs, I make sure they wash their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after helping. I also show them how I clean the counters and any touched surfaces.


  • 1 pound raw boneless/skinless chicken tenderloins
  • ½ cup all-purpose (or whole-wheat) flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 ½ cups Italian breadcrumbs


  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  • Take three shallow dishes, place flour in the first, beat egg and water in the second and pour breadcrumbs in the last.
  • Coat the chicken tenderloins with flour first, then egg, then breadcrumbs – chicken should be fully coated at each step.
  • Place the breaded chicken tenders onto the baking sheet.
  • Cook for 15-20 minutes – flipping halfway through – or until the chicken is at 165 degrees (golden brown on the outside, no longer pink on the inside).

> Want to make kitchen time even more meaningful? Follow these tips.

Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles

Who doesn’t love to cool down with a sweet treat on a hot day?  With this recipe, you and your kids can work together on a dessert that’s fun to make and packs a nutritional punch!


  • 12 ounces plain low-fat or whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups diced strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (see notes)


  • Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into popsicle molds and place popsicle stick in the center.
  • Freeze overnight and enjoy.


This recipe was adapted from Yummy Toddler Food. The original recipe calls for ¼ cup honey or maple syrup. I suggest leaving out the extra sweetener or try using half. Also, if your child is less than 1 year old, avoid honey due the botulism risk.

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