Healthy dinner ideas for kids and adults
family mealtime is something that’s fallen by the wayside, and our culture has forgotten that sitting down to eat together as a family unit is a time for interaction and good communication. We encourage you to make family dinnertime a priority in your home — it leads to healthy eating, good mealtime behaviors, and consistent communication. With that said, many parents find dinnertime frustrating with kids. It’s not unusual for toddlers to eat a good breakfast, a decent lunch, but not eat much at dinner. So don’t be overly concerned if your toddler tends to pick at her dinner. She’ll eat if she’s hungry.
Limit juice and milk intake between meals and have snacks far enough before planned meals to allow your child to come to the table hungry enough to eat. Give water for drinks throughout the day because water is less likely to fill your child up. This dinner section presents some healthy recipes for your kids (and your family) to enjoy.
You may also be interested in: Easy dinner ideas for picky kids
Tofu and Pasta Dinner
Pasta is a great food for toddlers because it’s a great source of energy (although at times you may want your child to have less energy), and tofu is a healthy alternative to other protein sources. You’ll find this recipe quick and healthy for the whole family. The leftovers (if you have any) also freeze well.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yield: Seven 1-cup servings
4 cups dry pasta (any variety, but orzo is easy for children to eat)
8 ounces tofu, diced (not silken tofu — it won’t brown)
3 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium zucchini, grated
Salt to taste
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain water.
- In a medium saucepan, sauté the tofu in the olive oil until the tofu is slightly brown. The tofu will be wet and doesn’t brown easily. Sautéing for 4 to 5 minutes is enough, even if the tofu doesn’t seem to brown up.
- Add the zucchini, cover, and steam for 10 minutes or until the zucchini is soft.
- Add the pasta, stir, and remove from the heat. Serve warm.
Tip: If the dish seems a bit dry, add a little more olive oil. You can also add a bit of shredded cheese for extra flavor.
Red Beans and Rice
Red Beans and Rice can be a staple meal for toddlers because it’s high in protein and complex carbs for energy. This dish also avoids the spice of many common versions. As an added bonus, this dish freezes beautifully for a quick thaw and reheat for later use.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Yield: Ten 1-cup servings
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for sautéing
1⁄2 cup onion, chopped
2 cups hot water
15 1⁄2 ounces canned kidney beans, drained
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cups minute rice, uncooked (or any quickcook rice)
- Pour the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Sauté the onion until it’s slightly brown. Stir in the water, beans, and bouillon. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Stir in the rice and cover for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve warm.
Vary It! If you want to bump up the protein, add precooked crumbled soy sausage (less spicy than regular sausage) to this recipe after you remove from the heat.
This recipe provides another creative way to help your child eat veggies. Serve this dish not only as dinner but also as a side dish, or freeze the extra portions as a snack — to be served hot or cold later.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yield: About 7 servings (2 fritters per serving)
1 cup carrots, peeled and grated
1⁄2 cup zucchini, grated
1⁄2 cup yellow squash, grated
2⁄3 cup potatoes, grated
2 tablespoons flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt to taste
- Mix the veggies in a bowl with the flour.
- Form the mixture into 15 round fritters with your hands and place on a clean plate.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and fry the fritters for about 5 minutes (21⁄2 minutes on each side) on medium-high heat until fritters are golden brown on each side. You can cook about three fritters at a time. After 3 batches, add more oil.
- Remove each fritter from the pan and place it on a plate covered with paper towel in order to absorb the excess grease. Lightly sprinkle with the salt. Serve warm or cold.
Apple-and-Turkey Meatballs use ground turkey meat — a healthy alternative and a great source of protein! Toddlers generally eat these meatballs because the turkey is tasty and meatballs are fun finger foods. Your child may also find meatballs fun to play with. Beware a flying meatball at dinnertime!
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes
Yield: 8 servings (3 meatballs per serving)
1 pound ground turkey
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
1 small apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons thyme
Flour for coating
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, mix the turkey, onion, breadcrumbs, apple, egg, and thyme.
- Coat your hands with flour and use your hands to form 24 small meatballs. Spread more flour on a plate and roll the meatballs in it until they’re lightly coated.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the meatballs until they’re golden brown, about 10 minutes. If you use a 10-inch frying pan, you’ll be able to cook about five at a time.Feel free to add a bit more oil between batches.
- Place the meatballs in a casserole dish and cook for 15 minutes.
Tip: For parents who don’t want to cook with oil, thus making the meatballs healthier, skip the sautéing and cook these meatballs in the oven without sautéing. Just extend the cooking time another 10 minutes or so, and then check to make sure they’re done.
Tip: Double or triple your recipe and freeze the extra meatballs to keep on hand! Freeze the meatballs without the flour coating.
Vary It! Serve Apple-and-Turkey Meatballs with spaghetti or almost any other dish, such as rice. You can even eat them by themselves. Try serving these meatballs in a hot dog bun with a little spaghetti sauce for an instant sub sandwich!
Bow-Tie Pasta with the Works
Farfalle (fahr-FAH-lay) pasta is the technical name for bow-tie pasta. But technicalities aside, your toddler will love this dish because it’s tasty and colorful.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Yield: Four 1-cup servings
1⁄4 pound bow-tie pasta
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 1⁄4 cups milk
1⁄4 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1⁄4 cup green peas (frozen is fine)
1⁄4 cup carrots, diced (frozen is fine)
1⁄2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 slices (about 1 ounce) cooked ham, beef, or chicken, diced
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the flour.
- Whisk in the milk and mustard. Add the peas and carrots, bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook for 3 minutes.
- Stir in the cheese and remove from the heat, continuing to stir until the cheese melts. Add the meat to the mixture.
- Drain the water from the pasta, and in a large bowl, toss together the meat and cheese mixture with the cooked pasta. Serve warm.
Vary It! Substitute other vegetables, such as broccoli, zucchini, squash, and so on for the peas and carrots.
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