20 Nourishing, Whole-Foods Dinners That Kids Will Eat!

pinnable KOTH kids meals

By Jessica Smartt, Contributing Writer

Y’all, I am far from being the perfect parent.

I yell more than I should. At times, I’m addicted to my iPhone. Sometimes, anxiety just plain gets the best of me. And, I’m not spending time reading the Bible nearly as much as I’d like – the perpetual struggle (sigh).

So believe me, no obnoxious “mommy pride” from this girl.

But can I share with you one teensy, little victory, that my husband and I are probably inordinately proud of?

Ours kids eat their dinner.

And (gasp) it’s the same, healthy dinner we grown-ups are eating. I know, right?? A miracle!?!

If this happens in your house, you may not realize how unusual this phenomenon is. In epidemic proportions nowadays, kids eat “their dinners” (mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and pizza are ones I hear a lot) while the grownups explore the culinary rainbow.

We’ve never been like that. For one thing, we’re too stinkin’ poor to afford separate kids meals. I’m not sure how I’d handle the temptation if we had the money!

Don’t get me wrong – my kids still cringe, complain and gag about the occasional spinach leaf in a dish. But in general, I’ve gotten good (if I say so myself) at creating nourishing meals that kids will actually eat.

Check out these 20 nourishing, whole-foods dinners that kids will eat!

15 minute salmon cakes

1. 15-Minute Allergy-Friendly Salmon Cakes

These are a snap to make, and though I held my breath the first time I served them, the boys gobbled them up! It still amazes me.

Clean-Eating Tip: Serve with homemade sweet potato fries.

Kid-Friendly Tip: A dab of organic ketchup might be a necessary evil in your home. No judgment here!

2. Homemade Meat Sauce with Pasta & Spaghetti Squash

Clean-Eating Tip: It might be cliché, but it’s true that shredded vegetables (zucchini, carrots, etc.) are nearly undetectable to kids. I can even get away with fresh spinach in sauce.

Kid-Friendly Tip: If your kids haven’t done spaghetti squash, try mixing it half and half with their normal pasta.

3. Homemade Turkey Meatballs

Clean-Eating Tip: Serve over spaghetti squash, and pack your sauce with veggies.

Kid-Friendly Tip: Same tip as above…Slowly ration in the spaghetti squash with pasta, and they won’t even notice!

4. Taco Salad

Combine ground beef or turkey with Mexican seasoning, avocado, tomatoes, black beans, corn, corn chips and cheese.

Clean-Eating Tip: Use grass-fed beef, organic or homegrown veggies.

Kid-Friendly Tip: The trick here is to finely chop the lettuce. If lettuce is a new thing, just add a few shreds the first time you serve it, then bump it up.

5. Sausage, Pepper, and Potato Bake

What I love about this meal (besides that it’s ridiculously delicious) is that I could prepare it in my sleep. Pretty sure I have at some points.

Clean-Eating Tip: Use organic potatoes, especially white, and a natural sausage. I love the chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s.

Kid-Friendly Tip: My kids use ketchup with this. Okay, even I use ketchup with this.

6. Mexican Rice & Homemade Refried Beans

Clean-Eating Tip: Definitely make the beans from scratch, soaking the night before. In lieu of the mounds of cheese and sour cream, use organic Greek yogurt, fresh cilantro, avocado, fresh lime and fresh tomatoes.

Kid-Friendly Tip: My kids don’t even eat dairy, but they devour these with tomatoes, avocado and tortilla chips.

pinnable

7. Mom’s Chicken Soup: The Real Deal

I firmly believe this chicken soup is magical, which might explain why my kids eat it, even though it’s packed with “healthy” foods.

Clean-Eating Tip: Organic chicken tastes much better. I add homemade chicken broth to the pot when I cook the chicken initially, adding extra nutrients (see recipe for details).

Kid-Friendly Tip: This is a meal that can look much “yuckier” to a kid than it tastes. If I can get my kids to eat a few bites, they gobble the bowl down.

8. Easy Mac & Cheesy

Okay – true confessions. My son is anaphylaxis to dairy, so we don’t eat this in our home. (Sniff, sniff!) But this recipe from The Nourishing Home looks nourishing and yummy!

Clean-Eating Tip: I love her suggestion to mix veggies and protein in with this dish.

9. Healthy Chili-Mac

Clean-Eating Tip: This dish doesn’t include many vegetables in the original recipe, but small-diced peppers are an easy add-in.

10. Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas

Because this recipe is cooked in the crock pot, the chicken shreds nicely – easier for little mouths to eat.

Kid-Friendly Tip: I take care to slice the peppers thinly, so it’s easier (and less conspicuous) for kiddos.

11. Whole-Wheat Pizza Pita Pockets

12. Homemade Pinto Beans and Cornbread

Clean-Eating Tip: For the meat in the beans, I use nitrate-free bacon or slices of natural chicken sausage. And of course, make that cornbread yourself over those icky mixes. It doesn’t take long at all!

Kid-Friendly Tip: This really is yummy, but if your kids need some extra incentive, add cheese and sour cream to to the beans and lots of butter and honey to the cornbread. I crumble the cornbread on top so they can’t just eat the cornbread.

13. Healthier Sloppy Joes over Baked Potatoes

Clean-Eating Tip: I use local grass-fed meat and add veggies to the sauce. (Lentils, shredded carrots, onions and peppers – I promise you can’t tell!) Great on a baked potato, too!

Kid-Friendly Tip: Try a homemade roll, or homemade fries.

14. Vegetable Quesadillas on Whole-Wheat Tortillas

15. Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Clean-Eating Tip: Use organic chicken, and bulk up the nutrition in this meal by serving with sweet potato fries.

Kid-Friendly Tip: I can’t think of a tip. All kids eat chicken nuggets…right?!

16. Crock Pot Sweet Potato Meatloaf

Clean-Eating Tip: You could use carrots or zucchini instead of the sweet potato. 

17. Easy Homemade Burger Patties

Clean-Eating Tip: Best with grass-fed meat from a local farm. Try serving it open-faced with one slice of whole-wheat bread, or sans bread and with fresh vegetable toppings, like tomatoes, spinach, and avocado.

18. Buckwheat Pancakes

These are amazing. I use coconut milk instead of almond. Serve with scrambled eggs, natural sausage, or a smoothie for a breakfast-for-dinner. I also love topping our pancakes with frozen (heated) berries.

19. Grilled Chicken Salad

I combine diced grilled chicken with corn, black beans, tomatoes, avocado, natural bacon and drizzle with olive oil. You can also add hard-boiled egg and shredded cheese. Last time I made this, my son said, “Mom, can you only make this for dinner, all the time?” Must be the bacon!

20. Nourishing Chicken Salad Sandwiches

What are some nourishing whole-foods dinners that you are proud of your kids for eating?

About Jessica Smartt

Jessica Smartt is a former middle-school teacher who lives in beautiful North Carolina. You can find her at www.smarttereachday.com where she enjoys poking fun at the everyday challenges of motherhood, sharing delicious allergy-free recipes, and rejoicing that God still loves her no matter what phobia she has recently developed. She is blessed beyond belief with two Smartt little boys and a husband who can fix anything.

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Comments

  1. Love the post! I would love to see more of these! I am always looking for quick, easy, and healthy dinners for our busy family. We try to always eat dinner together. I have 5 boys. 3 of whom have dairy allergies, and one who has a gluten allergy in addition to the dairy, so no mac and cheese in this house! hahaha The only real food issue we’ve faced is with my oldest (who is 12). He has not liked ANY green vegetable EVER. I would feed him vegetable soup when he first started on solids. He would chew his food, stick his tongue out, and the green bean would still be whole laying on his tongue for me to pick off. How he didn’t chew it, I’ll never know! He says they taste bitter, but my 11 year old LOVES broccoli, asparagus, green beans, etc. My children have ALWAYS eaten what me and my husband ate. I don’t have the time or the money to fix separate meals, but that’s just how we roll. :)

  2. As a mother of a VERY picky eater, let me tell you, I wish my son would eat those meals, but I truly believe that there is very little I could have done differently to change his eating habits. I, too, believe that some kids are born with texture issues that greatly affect their eating (and having a small appetite definitely allows them to reject more foods bc they simply aren’t hungry). Could it be genetic? I don’t know, but “doing everything right” doesn’t always help. :(

    • Hi, Angela,
      I know what you’re saying. I really do. And I feel for you. My kids come from a long line of good eaters. (Namely myself LOL!) I certainly agree that sensory issues are real and tricky to deal with. I don’t know what things are like exactly with your son, but I’d hope that even with all kids there could be room for some teensy little improvements. Sure, some kids may never gobble down salmon cakes. :) But if they eat mac and cheese, perhaps the slightest amount of pureed cauliflower would go undetected. I guess what I’m wondering is, what foods DOES your son eat? I’d be super-interested to think of ways, even small ones, to bump up nutrition in these very basic foods, so that he wouldn’t even notice. I have to wonder if that could be possible? Even a little, small step? :) Blessings to you.
      Jessica

      • First of all, I should say that he’s only 3, so maybe all hope isn’t lost yet…it just feels like it is every meal time!! And, I’m not sure that he has true sensory issues….just texture problems with food. I had major texture problems with food until I was much older and just got over it and he seems to stay away from the same foods I used to. (He has a gag reflex when he doesn’t like something/gets a “chunk” which I also did as a kid….weird I know?!?) He eats most fruits, yogurt with no chunks, smoothies that are puréed perfectly (I sneak spinach in there), oatmeal, peanut butter and honey/jelly sandwiches (daily, with a good whole wheat bread or Ezekiel bread and all natural pb and jelly), hummus and carrots, homemade chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries…..and any baked goods (I do sneak shredded carrots and zucchini in muffins for breakfast)….and of course most anything sweet (and that’s ALL he will eat!). I rotate those foods for breakfast and lunch and I make a normal meal for my husband, daughter, and I and he just sits with us and will rarely eat anything unless there is bread at the meal. I always said I would not be the parent who served chicken nuggets and PBJs (he won’t even eat macaroni and cheese!), and I don’t want to say we’ve given up, but stubborn children (also genetic?!? :)) will wear you down! And, it doesn’t help that he’s about as skinny as possible (back up to 25% for weight now but I think I started serving a daily PBJ when he was in the 3% for weight). My daughter, on the other hand, (though only 18 months) eats everything in sight and then some (but is still only 15% for weight). Just praying they have everything they need for healthy bodies and minds and that they will develop healthy eating habits (someday)!

        • Angela, as a mom of picky twins who, just now at 5 years old have started eating vegetables, it sounds like your son is doing a great job for a 3 year old! My twins were preemies. They did and still do have some textural issues (you know meal time is over when they puke right on their plate because of texture/gagging). I did make them different meals for a long time – anything to add a little fat to those bones. (And I still do if I KNOW there is no way they will eat what the rest of us are eating.) In my opinion, a good, natural PBJ on whole wheat bread once a day is perfectly healthy. Just add more food variety anywhere you can! (Sometimes you just need someone else to tell you it’s really okay!)

          • Thanks Erin! You’re so sweet. You’re right, sometimes you do just need to hear that it’s okay! :) And, I’m encouraged that your picky eaters started eating some veggies at 5! (And, that I’m not the only one with a kid who throws up in his food. I would probably think he was doing it on purpose or that it was a behavioral issue if I hadn’t been the same way.)

            And, Jessica, I certainly do appreciate this post with lots of great recipes! I will be using some of these for dinners in the near future! And, I saw from your blog that your son has a milk allergy as does my daughter (though not as severe as yours), so I’ll be checking out some dairy free recipes on your blog too!

        • Wow that sounds like my 2 1/2 year old! he too is only in the 3% for weight, and the doctors tried to get me to give him pediasure which I did for about a week, but couldn’t bring myself to continue feeding him all that artificial crap and sugar, but I was desperate at the time. All he would eat was whole wheat toast with butter and milk! Its so weird though because when he was a baby he would eat almost anything. And now he’ll like something one day and then the next he will have nothing to do with it. Hopefully it will be only a phase, I too was a picky eater and finally grew out of it as a teen.

  3. I have four children, the youngest of whom are twins. My older two have always been near perfect eaters, veggies, ethnic foods, the whole bit. My twins have always been difficult. Having twins while having two preschoolers in the house, when it came time to introduce foods I was still in survival mode and gave them what they would eat rather than forcing (I mean ENCOURAGING) them to try new foods. Also, they were preemies, and have always been on the small side, so I gave them whatever I knew they would eat a lot of. Finally now, at five and a half years old, they are eating what the rest of the family eats at dinner and without a fight.

    Our meal system is that the kids get healthy kid food for lunch (they are all at home since we homeschool) and mom and dad get to choose what we have for dinner. Lunch may be homemade mac and cheese, homemade “lunchables”, homemade pizza, but mom and dad love to cook and love ethnic foods so dinner is an adventure. Also, now that the twins are older, we do require that everyone eat *almost all* of their dinner, unless it is something they truly do not like (I have one kid who will throw up if he eats mashed potatoes, another that gags on tomatoes.)

  4. you could try making your own ketchup. Especially if you make it lacto-fermented, you can feel great letting them have as much as they want. ~

  5. {Kathy} These are wonderful tips and recipes. I have 4 children— all of whom have had different eating personalities. That’s right. I think that we are born with certain traits that are somewhat uncontrollable. Sensory issues are mostly to blame. Be thankful if your kids don’t have them. I was one of those kids who felt like spiders were crawling down my throat when I drank pulpy orange juice so I am empathic when kids tell me, “that food feels funny”.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I can’t wait to try some of these recipes. However I truly am puzzled as to why so many parents have kids that don’t like to eat a wide variety of good foods. If you are just starting your family here are some ideas that we use. I followed the advice to make mealtimes a family event as much as possible even if that means that Mom eats a snack instead of full blown dinner with Dad much later. I do literally sit and eat breakfast and lunch with my kids — 3.5 years and 15 months. Most dinners include my husband. If I give my toddler something different from what we are eating based upon what he can chew, he just points wanting whatever is on our plates. If Mommy and Daddy are eating it then it must be good. My daughter was like that, too. It never dawned on her to declare something as yucky until recently when she heard other kids say it. My husband and I have had to be very diligent to watch what we say about foods. For example, I just don’t like olives, so I just quietly pick them off my pizza and offer them to my daughter or now my son, too. Olives aren’t “my preference” I might say, but we often delight in God’s creativity in the bounty that He has given. In short, we have been very purposeful in how we model food attitudes since kids tend to mimic parents. I hope that might be of help to some.

    • I’m with you, Stephanie; we try to eat meals together as a family (except lunch most days, with my older child in school), and our kids eat what we eat.

      It is interesting to see the differences in our kids – they both certainly LIKE “kid food”, but our older child eats large helpings of pretty much anything, unless she really doesn’t like it. Given a choice, she will often pick veggies and other clean foods to go along with “kid food”. Our younger child, on the other hand, seems to simply have a small appetite, which can look like pickiness at times. We’re learning to let him just take a few bites of something he doesn’t like, warning him he’s not getting anything else, and then let it be. He eats plenty of healthy foods overall, just in smaller quantities. I try to make sure he doesn’t fill up on the “kid stuff” when it’s available to him, since I know he doesn’t eat much at a sitting.

  7. Wow, what a terrific post! It can be a real challenge to get veggies into kids – what’s up with that anyway? LOL! But it is possible with a little creativity and perseverance, especially when we take their favorites and “health-ify” them. Thanks so much for sharing a few of my kids favorites! What a blessing you are! Thanks again! :)

  8. Thanks! Will be trying some soon!