RainbowFeeding children takes work.

Shopping, menu planning, food preparation, table setting, serving, eating, keeping a meal conversation going, attending to younger ones who need assistance, cleaning up, all while simultaneously monitoring and supporting to the needs of the small ones I am cooking for…

The subject of food in one way, shape, or form consumes the majority my days with the crew!  Do you ever feel that way too?  Tell me I’m not the only one! 

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Here is how I set my menus:

  1. Processed foods are almost non-existent; they are high in sodium, low in nutrients, and expensive!
  2. Meals should be quick and easy to prepare, preferably prepare-able while I am dressed like a pirate and walking around with a bird on my shoulder if necessary.
  3. The crew should *want* to eat what I am making.  Not that they will, or if they do today, they might not eat it if I made it tomorrow — but I do plan my menus with their tastes in mind.
  4. Meals meet dietary requirements set by the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
  5. All meals are vegetarian.
  6. At least one of our snacks each day (we eat two) is made up of a fresh fruit or vegetable.

Now, before I tempt your taste buds with some mouthwatering ideas, I need to be clear about my beliefs regarding mealtimes.  What I feed children is not nearly as important as how I feed children.  In a nutshell: children are responsible for their plates entirely – they can choose whether to eat and how much.  Children are not required to taste anything.  I am responsible for serving healthy, balanced meals on a predictable schedule and assuring an environment around the table that is conducive and pleasant for eating.   If you are interested in more reading on how to feed children, I highly recommend looking into the work of  Ellyn Satter.  I have read all of her books, and her work has transformed the way I approach eating with children.

Now, to the food!  Here is a list of our favorites.

1.  Black bean burgers: We eat them with ketchup and melted cheese on a bun in burger form, and then the next day, we grill them with cheese and make a patty melt.  Two meals from one prep…doesn’t get much better!

  • 1 large can of black beans (the 30 ounce size, rinsed and drained)
  • 1/2 cup of oats (more or less…depending on the consistency of the patties)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A dash of chopped, dried parsley for color (optional)

Mash everything together. If the patties aren’t holding their form, add more oats until the mixture holds together.  Cook them over a skillet or in the oven until they are brown on both sides (3-5 minutes/side on the skillet).  I make these burgers when we are going to have a morning of indoor play. They don’t take much work, but they do take a close eye monitoring their progress.

2.  Mac and Cheese, Emily Style! This form of macaroni and cheese takes no more effort or expense then boxed versions, but it is much healthier.

  • 1 box (16 ounces) whole grain pasta.  We like rotini or shells.
  • 1 large tub of cottage cheese (24 ounces)
  • 2 large handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese (approx. 2 cups)
  • Salt, to tasteCook the pasta.

After draining the water, while the pasta is still piping hot, stir in the entire tub of cottage cheese and the cheddar cheese.Variations: Use a different grain!  We love barley, brown rice, and cous cous prepared the same way.  Or, put the cheesy grains into a baking dish, top with diced tomatoes, and bake!

3.  Breakfast Burritos

  • Scrambled Eggs
  • Whole grain tortillas
  • Choose any extras: refried beans, spinach, asparagus, corn, avocado, cheddar cheese

To prepare these, I roll the eggs up into the tortillas in advance. If we are having any extras with our burritos, I add those in advance as well.  This doesn’t give children as much control over what they are eating (infringing a little on the principles of how to feed children that I live by), but it streamlines the serving process.  Breakfast burritos are a Friday lunchtime standby!

4. Banana Dogs

  • 1 banana
  • Whole wheat hot dog buns
  • Peanut butter
  • Honey (optional for the over 1-year-old bunch)

Spread peanut butter on the bun and drizzle with honey.  Add the banana where the hot dog would normally go!

5.  Tartines  Our family discovered tartines while we were living in Paris.  Basically, tartines are french open-faced sandwiches.  My version is not much like an authentic tartine, but it makes them sound fancy.

  • 1 rice cake
  • Peanut butter
  • Toppings: raisins, apples, other dried fruits, shredded carrots, broccoli, sunflower seeds (if age appropriate), sliced eggs

Spread peanut butter on the rice cake and let the crew design their own creations!

6.  Rice and Beans

  • 1 large can of baked beans
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
    Top the rice with the beans and enjoy!

Now for a few other ideas that don’t require special recipes…

7.  Dipping meals: provide protein based dips (yogurt, peanut butter, hummus) and several dipping options (fruit slices, veggie slices, bread sticks)

8.  Pasta salad: whole wheat pasta with fresh veggies, cubed cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and Italian dressing

I would love to hear your ideas for easy, quick, healthy vegetarian fare for young children.  What are your go-to meals? Share ideas below in the comments.

Thanks for reading!