4 Kid-Friendly Spring Recipes and Tips from a Pediatric Nutritionist

By Haley Duscha, RDN, CDN, Connecticut Children’s 

It doesn’t have to be an uphill battle to get children to try new things or step out of their comfort zone when it comes to food.  Making food trying a positive experience can go a long way and making new recipes that are exciting and fun can be a great place to start- even for the pickiest of eaters. Check out these nutrition tips and recipes for kids to try some fun spring vegetables and foods as a family. Read below the fold for the full scoop.

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Tips from a Pediatric Dietician on Trying New Foods

  1. Make it look exciting! It’s not just how it tastes; it’s also what the food looks like. 
  2. Get them involved in the kitchen: Make the new recipe a group project. Your child may be more excited to try it with you, because they just put in a lot of work to get it on the plate. Having your child participate in even a small way can make a world of difference. Some safe and simple tasks include:-Washing veggies or fruit;
    -Scooping food onto the plate;
    -Mixing ingredients together; and 
    -Arranging fun designs.
  3. Encourage food play for kids of all ages. On some occasions, it can lead to a mess, but on other’s food play can be a key step towards taking a bite. Playing with new foods can make them less intimidating or scary. Springtime food play ideas include:-Being a bunny with lettuce ears – act out bunny hops or bunny mealtime;
    -Making a banana peel octopus – using leftover peel and markers for decorating;
    -Having a cucumber stacking championship – see who can stack the most; the highest wins;
    -Doing a veggie car wash with a basting brush and water; and
    -Bowling with Brussel sprouts – knock over other veggies or even see who can roll the most straight.
  4. Resist the temptation to force a picky eater. Parents want to provide the best for their children and sometimes that means mealtime can be a tense situation and lead to power struggles. Sometimes we need to remember that forcing the situation can make picky eaters even more hesitant. Making new food situations positive and decreasing negative attention around food is better in the long run. Congratulating your child when they take a bite, having fun foods and getting them involved in picking choices are all a great way to get started. Remember that your picky eater should be in charge of when they want to put new foods in their mouth. You as the parent are in charge of how often you can offer something new.

4 Spring Recipes for Kids of All Ages 

1. Bunny Trail Mix

Prep time: 5 minutes
Servings: 5

Top-down view of trail mix in a white bowl on a blue placemat. Contains Chex, bunny-shaped crackers, nuts and raisins Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup whole shelled (unpeeled) almonds
  • ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup chopped pitted dates
  • 2 ounces dried apricots, or other dried fruit
  • ¼ cup cheddar bunnies (such as Annie’s)
  • Optional add-ins: small pretzels/pretzel rods, dry Chex cereal, unsalted popcorn

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to mix.

Make Ahead: Store in plastic bags for up to two weeks at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Fun with EatingWell Magazine, Joyce Hendley, M.S.

2. Baked Chickpeas, Sweet Potato and Spinach Empanadas 

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes 
Servings: 8

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick Cooking Spray
  • 1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (divided)
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup olive oil (divided)
  • 1 cup peeled and cooked sweet potato (time saver tip: use cooked frozen sweet potato).
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/3 cup scallions, diced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach or kale, chopped
  • 1 egg slightly beaten, for egg wash

Close-up of empanadas on white plate, blurred background. Pastry dough filled with chickpeas, spinch and sweet potatoesDirections:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, and ½ tsp salt in a large bowl
  4. Slowly add milk and 2 tsp olive oil. Mix until combined.
  5. Form dough into a ball, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. (Dough should be elastic and not sticky).
  6. While dough is resting, in a separate bowl, combine sweet potato, beans, garlic, cumin and 2 Tbsp olive oil.
  7. Add the scallion and spinach to sweet potato mixture.
  8. Separate the dough into 8 balls and roll with a rolling pin into thin circles, about 6 inches in diameter.
  9. Fill half of each circle with prepared mixture.
  10. Fold dough over, creating a ½ moon shape.
  11. Pinch the dough shut with a fork and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  12. Brush each empanada with egg wash.
  13. Cut three small slits on the top of the empanadas to let steam escape while they cook.
  14. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until browned. Remove and then let sit for 10 additional minutes. 

Enjoy making these empanadas with your little chef.  Depending on your child’s age, your child may be able to help mix, shape dough, fill circles, crimp edges and brush the egg wash.  Remember, children who help in preparing a meal are often more interested in trying something new.

Recipe adapted from Fun with Food Toddler Cookbook, Yaffi Lvona, RD

3. Arts and Crackers “Charcuterie” Board

Prep time: 25 minutes
Servings: About 20

A bit of fun with a cookie cutter and a tasty fruit topping can transform simple cheese and crackers into a healthy snack everyone will love and enjoy making.

White food board with moon- and star-shaped marbled cheese, crackers on side and a bowl of fruit with a spoonIngredients

  • 2 slices reduced-fat provolone cheese
  • 2 slices reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 large apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon peach preserves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 20 reduced-fat Triscuits or other whole grain crackers

Optional: For fun colors and flavors, try replacing the apple with ¾ cup of you or your child’s fruit of choice.

Directions:

  1. Cut cheese slices with assorted 1-inch cookie cutters; set aside.
  2. In a small skillet, sauté apple in butter. Add preserves and cinnamon; heat through.
  3. Let preserves cool.
  4. Serve crackers topped with cheese and apple preserves for fun make as you eat snack.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home, website.

4. Leprechaun Noodles

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Servings: 5

For the amount of time it takes to cook your favorite pasta, you can make this tasty, fun-colored noodle dish to bring to the table.

Ingredients

  • 1lb whole grain linguine or pasta shape of your choice
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • ¾ cup queso fresco, cubed (can be substituted with queso blanco, cotija cheese, mild feta, paneer or tofu)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ onion, peeled
  • ¼ cup walnuts (can be substituted with toasted breadcrumbs)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup evaporated milk (can be substituted with any dairy or non-dairy milk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper

White meal tray with 4 compartments showing green noodles, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and red peppers, respectivelyDirections:
Many of these steps will be fun for your little kitchen helper!

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. While pasta cooks, in a blender or food processor, add spinach, basil, queso fresco, garlic cloves, onion, walnuts, olive oil, evaporated milk, salt and pepper.
  3. Blend for 1 minute, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides to makes sure all ingredients are fully incorporated. The sauce should be bright green and smooth.
  4. When pasta is fully cooked, reserve up to ½ cup of starchy pasta water, then drain the pasta well.
  5. Turn off the burner and return pasta to the pot.
  6. Pour sauce over the pasta and stir until pasta is well coated. If needed, add starchy pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin the sauce.
  7. Serve with your favorite veggie and protein sides. Garnish with some additional cheese as desired.

Notes: The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Recipe adapted from Kids Eat in Color, website, Olivia Milana

 

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