What the Hell is Healthy “Kid Food?!”

Anyone with a child knows that it can be extremely difficult to get kids to eat vegetables. Unless you’re one of those rare parents who’s kid loves to sit down to some roasted brussels sprouts and calamari. Are you? Ha I want to know in the comments about how amazing that is.

For most of us, our kids have “kid palates” and they eat “kid food.” In case you’re not familiar with this sophisticated terminology – you know when you go out to eat and there’s a kid’s menu and the options are chicken nuggets and fries, macaroni and cheese, pizza, and a corn dog? That’s kid food.

So how do we make nuggets, mac and cheese, hot dogs, and pizza really healthy for our kids, without forcing them to eat “yucky” grown-up fare?

Luckily for us millennial parents, there are a plethora of amazing foodie ideas and recipes on the internet providing just such an answer. I’ve made a Pinterest board for all of you to get some great ideas right away. All of the links I’ll mention in this article are pinned in there. Check it out!

Tricks of the Trade

In my quest to feed my children healthier “kid food,” I have spent many blissful hours pinning away. However, one thing I have discovered from all my internet searching is that the majority of articles that claim to have the key to your healthy kid food woes, in reality end up giving you a bunch of useless recipes that your kids wouldn’t touch with a nine foot pole, let alone actually eat.

I don’t know about you, but my kids won’t eat green pasta. They just won’t. It’s green so  it’s gross. The only time I’ve gotten away with this is on Halloween when I made “toxic waste mac and cheese” and sneakily subbed the green food coloring by blending up cooked spinach with the almond milk. Spinach really doesn’t taste like anything when it’s overtaken by other flavors so no one noticed…

a paint can spray painted black and yellow with a stencil of a biohazard symbol is filled with toxic waste mac and cheese and steamed cauliflower for Halloween
Not the greatest picture since you can’t see the macaroni (sorry it’s the only picture I took!) but this was a fun way to do mac n cheese for Halloween. I actually did it vegan and I made a grain free vegan version as well. The steamed cauliflower on top is lots of yummy scum.

So what will they eat? Well I’ll let you in on the secret I figured out after looking at all those useless recipes: We have to go back to what we know. Chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, pizza, hot dogs, and fries.

Chicken nuggets aren’t inherently unhealthy, but they could be better. Good alternatives I’ve found are chickpea nuggets and veggie nuggets. I’m not trying to make anyone vegan or vegetarian here, but your kids could probably stand to have some veggie nuggets on the side of their chicken nuggets, am I right?

food photography of chickpea nuggets and homemade French fries on a wooden table.
Baked chickpea nuggets and homemade fries fried in coconut oil.

When it comes to breading, my family and I have made delicious homemade chicken tenders and white fish with breading made of almond meal and other crushed nuts. You boost the nutritional content of the nugget by a mile and the kids still enjoy the chicken nuggets and fish sticks they love.

homemade chicken tenders on a plate

Now I am well aware that any change to a beloved meal, no matter how minuscule, will not go over well at the toddler table. Which is why we’ve introduced changes to our kids’ diet very slowly. One thing at a time. Maybe one new thing a week. It has taken us years of trial and error to get our kids beyond gold fish and Kraft mac n cheese, but it has been well worth it.

What helps more than anything is getting the kids in the kitchen to help prepare the new food with you. When my daughters made grain-free chicken nuggets with me, they were excited to taste them when they were done.

Two girls make homemade chicken tenders in a kitchen.
Mia, age 6 (left) and Lizzie, age 5 (right) make homemade grain-free chicken tenders circa 2017.

Mac and Cheese is a kid favorite that cannot be ignored. I love this easy vegan mac and cheese recipe from Buzzfeed. Once again, when it comes to dietary choices I am totally non-partisan. It’s not because this recipe is vegan that won it’s way into my recipe book. It’s that it’s made almost entirely of vegetables.

vegan macaroni and cheese with a wooden spoon
It’s not in the recipe, but I always find I need to add about a quarter cup of nutritional yeast to make this cheese sauce really cheesy. The nooch only makes it yummier and also boosts this meal’s nutritional profile by adding vital B-12.

Carrot, potato, and onion make up the base of this cheese sauce, and you can put it on any kind of macaroni. If your family is doing the paleo thing or gluten free thing, or you just want to boost the nutritional content of this mac and cheese even more, try my favorite gluten free pasta, Banza.

Banza pasta is made of chickpeas and doesn’t fall apart after cooking like all those other corn-based gluten free pastas on the mainstream grocery store shelves. I like to buy mine from Thrive because they sell it the cheapest but when I need it now and can’t wait for an online order I go to Whole Foods.

Hot dogs are the next kid food we’ll tackle. Believe it or not there’s a great option out there that’s 100% vegetable. It’s called a carrot dog and don’t bash it til you chew it because it’s quite incredible. Once marinated and seasoned and roasted to a tender perfection, these yummy carrot dogs might just become your kids’ favorite meal.

I haven’t tried this particular recipe that I have pinned. The one I use is from a cookbook called Thug Kitchen Party Grub. I am completely in love with the Thug Kitchen cookbook which I own. Over the past three years I have made over 60 recipes from it to date. A friend sent me a picture of the carrot dog recipe though and I find myself making it quite often.

These carrots in a blanket would be super cute for a kids’ party or fun dinner entree.

Fries I honestly just make with good ‘ol regular potatoes, but I fry them in coconut oil. We have an air fryer we used to use all the time, but my family has decided that we honestly prefer deep fried food to air fried food, so we’ve really stopped using it. When we do deep fry, we simply choose a healthy oil full of lots of fats our body needs to survive and thrive.

Some other healthy fry options you can definitely consider making for your kids to mix it up are sweet potato fries, zucchini fries, parsnip fries, green bean fries, and even beet fries. Who doesn’t like some deep fried goodness every once in awhile? Might as well get some veggies in while you’re at it.

Food photography of two Beyond Burgers with cartelized onions and sweet potato fries with a Colorado mug full of chocolate shake.
Sweet potato fried, beyond burgers, and chocolate shake.

Taco Tuesday is a day when it’s always raining tacos in the Mojica house. Not only do my kids have to listen to Parry Gripp’s Raining Tacos on repeat, but they will mindlessly devour their favorite lentil tacos while they’re doing it. There are tons of recipes for lentil tacos on the Internet, but this is the lentil taco recipe I like to make. I always double this recipe to feed my family. I made up a jar of a double quadruple batch of all the spices, labeled it “taco seasoning” with my label maker, and just measure out 2 tablespoons of it when I make the recipe.

a screenshot of a Facebook post shows a taco spread of chips, guacamole, pico de Gallo, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and lentil taco filling on a wooden table.
By the way in my opinion french lentils make the best lentil taco filling. I have tried the larger green lentils and sprouted lentils from Thrive, but the little french lentils in the bulk bins at Whole Foods are my favorite for their price and aesthetic in this recipe.

Dessert! Of course I’ve saved the best for last: how to get fruits and veggies into your kids’ diet event at dessert! Try this super smooth, creamy chocolate avocado pudding, sweetened with maple syrup. Or these healthy 4-ingredient applesauce cookies with apple and pumpkin.

chocolate avocado pudding in a white ceramic bowl with a wooden spoon
Chocolate avocado pudding.

My absolute all-time favorite thing to bake for some inexplicable reason is this chocolate beet cake with avocado frosting from The Pretty Bee. Just don’t be alarmed the next morning because beets do make your poop red, especially when they are consumed in tandem with cocoa (and you won’t think about it because they are totally masked by the chocolate).

a screenshot of a shows a piece of chocolate cake with raspberries on top.

Another treat I like to make for my girls any time of the day is chocolate milkshakes, which is a recipe I made up for my food truck Munchies. If your kiddo prefers vanilla, I have a vanilla version for you to try too.

The chocolate shake (aka “All Over My Banana”):

1 can of full-fat coconut milk, chilled
1 frozen banana
1 T raw cacao powder
1 tsp local honey

The vanilla shake recipe:

1 can of full-fat coconut milk, chilled
1 frozen banana
1 T coconut nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract

I use honey for the chocolate shake because honey and chocolate feel like a perfect pairing to me, and I use coconut nectar for the vanilla because I like honey less with vanilla. But you can honestly use whatever sweeteners you prefer.

And I would be remiss not to mention my favorite brownie recipe, the one bowl black bean brownie. It has avocado, walnuts, AND a whole can of black beans in the batter. My kids don’t like the walnuts on top, but they are still getting omega 3s from walnuts they can’t see in the brownies.

Gorgeous food photography of vegan grain free black bean brownies with chopped walnuts stacked on a cutting board

It’s much more fun to eat colors.

One of the ways I figure out how to help my kids eat healthy foods is by thinking about how to make their food fun. It’s a really good idea to get kids excited about eating the rainbow. Kids love bright colors, and the brightest colors of all in the food pyramid are the colors of fruits and vegetables.

Fruit on a plate. Grapes, clementines, apples, and ripe bananas.

Sometimes for breakfast, I’ll just put out a plate of brightly colored fruit and let my kids have at it. Sometimes for dinner we’ll do “snack tray night” (aka Mommy is tired night) where lots of snacks and fruits and sometimes veggies go out on a baking sheet or cutting board for everyone to devour.

snack tray night

snack tray

There are lots of other great ideas in the Pinterest board for “rainbow food.” You can simply put together a plate of fruits ranging from red strawberries to indigo blueberries and purple grapes. Your kiddos will be wowed by the colors and excited about eating them. Sometimes it’s boring to eat food. It’s much more fun to eat colors. 

Make food fun.

In addition to mock kid food and rainbow colors, there are even more ways we can make food fun for our kids! Check out “cute food for kids” on Pinterest for a ton of creative ideas, like this adorable snail.

Cute food art of a snail made of a celery stick, peanut butter, chocolate chips, pretzels, and a slice of apple.

… or these cute palm trees!

Cute food art of palm trees made of mandarin oranges, bananas, and kiwi.

They are plenty easy to make, no recipe is involved, and your kids will love you for it.

But what do my kids actually eat?

In reality, my kids do not like chickpea nuggets. They don’t like avocado pudding. And they don’t love sweet potato fries. But they do love sitting down to an entire meal of baby spinach leaves with a bowl of whole milk yogurt to dip them into. They do love tender green beans slathered in earth balance and sprinkled with salt. They like banana milkshakes and apple slices dipped in peanut butter. And they could eat huge bowlfuls of broccoli.

My 6 year old will eat the vegan mac, but my 7 year old won’t touch it. My 7 year old loves yogurt with granola, but my 6 year old is not a fan. Both of them like kale chips, but they have to be in the mood for them.

a girl eats cheezy kale chips and kiwi.
Usually I make the girls plain kale chips with just a drizzle of olive oil and some salt in my dehydrator, but cheezy kale chips have cashews and nutritional yeast, which is a great way to get B-12 into your kids’ diet.

It’s all about finding out what healthy foods your kids will eat. You’ll never know if they’ll like something until you try offering it a few different ways.

There is the cutest children’s book ever called The Princess and the Peas. A little girl who won’t eat peas is diagnosed by the family doctor as being a princess. Her father gets pea recipe books out of the library and makes her dozens of different recipes, to no avail. The girl must go to live at the palace. When she doesn’t like living at the palace, she decides she isn’t a princess after all and moves back home with her dad. In the end she finds out that she does like peas, dipped in chocolate and cheese. Moral of the story: there is always a way to make a kid like a vegetable!

Have fun on Pinterest, in the kitchen, and cooking with your kiddos ❤ Please do let me know in the comments if any of these ideas have been helpful to you, and if you have any more ideas that we need to know about! Gold Millennial is a community project, where all millennial voices can be heard. Thanks for reading! If you loved it feel free to share 😉

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “What the Hell is Healthy “Kid Food?!”

      1. Wal-Mart xD Morning Star is the best. But in all seriousness, several of these recipes look SO good. I want to try to make the black bean brownies, whenever I can get a minute.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This was a fabulous article, I am a veggo and my kids like meat (as does hubby) but as I read I was feeling a little more inclined to get into the kitchen and cook something a little different for dinner…❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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