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Cooking for kids?

I'm looking for ideas for meals for perhaps fussy kids that I would want to eat as well -- I'd prefer to not cook separately for me. I'll soon be cooking for my young nieces, but they are adventurous eaters since their parents are excellent home cooks. I'm looking for dishes for kids whose taste experiences are mostly fast food, to move them toward more healthy eating.

Cooking for myself, I like international, spicy and sometimes intense foods -- love the Indonesian COTM this month! I can happily braise or bake some fish for me. I don't want to make fish sticks. And I'd prefer to steer clear of hot dogs and burgers -- which I don't eat -- and I only once made a meatloaf.

I would prefer healthy, tasty ideas, preferably with vegetables mixed in so they're not easily neglected, as in: meat, vegetable, and a starch on a plate. My CSA starts soon.

I'm thinking: chicken braised/baked with brown rice, carrots and chicken stock. Of course there's pasta and sauce. There's stew, but I may need some quicker dinner ideas.

I may be getting some foster children soon and I'd like to come up to speed ahead of time. Thanks!

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  1. My children can be picky if that's the mood they are in. Other times, they will eat what's in front of them.

    Make your own quesadillas/ enchilladas/ soft tacos work well in my house. I vary the ingredients, but always have beans & rice, tortillas & cheese. I serve either pork or chicken, salsa on the side, avocado or guacamole, sauteed veggies (whatever happens to be in the fridge). We have some combo of this at least once per week. I make a huge pot of beans & leftovers reheat well. I also make my own tortillas, but store bought ones are really convenient (just too expensive at my grocery stores). I also will serve some sliced mango if I can get a good one & that tastes delicious with black beans.

    When I cook, I generally cook 2 pork tenderloins or roast 2 chickens, so I have plenty of leftovers to make into 2 or 3 other meals. That saves me lots of time & I cook them in a simple manner so they can be transformed with other flavors easily.

    Good luck with being a foster parent. I believe offering healthy foods that the children can help cook (if they are capable & old enough) will be eaten, at least some of the time:)

    1 Reply
    1. re: tall sarah

      i really like tall sarah's make-your-own idea for almost anything kid-related.

      - ramen or other noodle soup (have as add-ins various types of chopped and julienned veggies, shredded chicken, omelet, other protein)

      - salad (bowls of ingredients, esp. diced cucumber, tomato, green peppers, corn, red onion, beans, crumbled feta, etc.., that they can combine however they like + different salad dressings on the side)

      - dinner omelet (they pick the fillings, you cook it on the stove... you could cut each child's creation up into pieces so everyone tries a bit of everyone else's)

      - stirfry (they pick the fillings, maybe collaboratively, you cook)

      - sandwiches pressed in a waffle iron

      - baked potato

      - fruit plate (show them how to make faces out of a banana / melon slice mouth, strawberry nose and blueberry eyes)

      also, if you make a pot of chili, the kids could pick what they want under the chili (baked potato, rice, bun, tortilla chips) and what they want on top (chives, sour cream, tomatoes, shredded cheddar)

    2. Congratulations and best wishes on your new adventure! through family, I am very involved in fostering.

      Food can turn into a bit of an issue. I have met teens who have never tasted (and won't at first) anything other than white bread or rice, never been served salad that wasn't hidden by a burger bun and "special sauce", claim never to have eaten fish and didn't know that fries were actually made from potatoes (a vegetable) because they "never" eat vegetables.

      Please don't let yourself get discouraged, but also do not be disappointed if your best intentions are rejected: I hear that you don't want to resort to fish sticks, hot dogs and burgers, but you may have to start slow if your young charge resists.

      Kids in the foster system have so few ways to exercise control over their torn lives that they can make food a battle ground...don't let yourself become enmeshed in their agenda but you may have to be very patient.

      Maybe homemade chicken fingers? turkey burgers? fruit salads? fish sandwich? and if you can in any way involve the youngster in purchasing the food that you then turn into a salad, stew or braise together you might just get them to be more adventurous.

      Again, good luck goes out with this!

      1 Reply
      1. re: LJS

        LJS, thanks for your advice and good suggestions! And thanks to you too Sarah.
        Make your own burritos sounds good, and okay, I can deal w/ homemade chicken fingers and a dipping sauce. I'll have to dig out my Laurie Colwin Home Cooking book to read her chapter on how to disguise vegetables. Fritters I believe was her advice!

        Also, I'll take them to my CSA and have them pick out the produce for our share pickup.
        Patience, yes seems to be the byword w/ foster parenting.

      2. My son (2 1/2) loves "spaghetti and shrimp," just make spaghetti (use brown rice noodles if you want, can barely tell the difference) with sauce and add some shrimp. Sometimes I mix in some spinach or peas too.

        Another favorite is "orange soup," because it's orange-colored. Lightly saute an onion and a little garlic in butter, then add a chopped sweet potato/or big chunk of butternut squash, a couple of chopped carrots and a chopped celery stalk. Add water or stock and salt and simmer until soft, then puree with hand blender. You can add other veggies or fruit too, or different spices. My son loves to dip bread into it.

        I've found he will eat almost anything if I give him melted butter or ketchup to dip into, or put shredded cheese on top.

        Good luck!

        1. <<Maybe homemade chicken fingers? turkey burgers? fruit salads? fish sandwich? and if you can in any way involve the youngster in purchasing the food that you then turn into a salad, stew or braise together you might just get them to be more adventurous.>>

          I agree, I have cooked for a few school parties, soccer parties and even just birthday parties and there are many kids ... more than there are not who hate to try anything new.

          Some white rice only, brown NEVER, vegetables no especially in a stew for some, others love it. Vegetables well that depends.

          I think LJS is right, start slow with simple fries and a healthy fish sandwich, bread it yourself. Some kids will not even fish without a coating ... chicken fingers can be made healthy, fruit salads are great. A whole roasted chicken, most kids love chicken, mashed potatoes. Skirt steak and slowly add your flavors for them.

          Most important get the kids involved. Ask them what they like right away, then you will get an idea. For picky eaters, start slow by letting them make a small pizza just for them and slowly introduce new veggies to flavors to them. Quesadillas are fun, they can be just cheese if that is all they want, next time ask them to add one veggie, and then another.

          Try yogurts for breakfast but make it fun by using the custard type and then typing with crunchy topping and fresh fruit or even cinnimon toast.

          Drinks, try yogurt smoothies they will think it is a milkshake. Make Mac and Cheese but add chicken and broccoli, most kids like that and it gets then involved with more flavors when you can up it with different cheeses or sneak in a few mushrooms or onions or red peppers. Shrimp with fun dips.

          One think I do is when making fries, I may make baked sweet potato fries or if baking something anyways, make some zuchinni planks dipped in egg and panko and baked. Serve it with ranch and they just might try it.

          I got my sons friend to love brown rice, but I had to mix it with white the first few times, now he comes over and loves brown. It is all baby steps for picky eaters, and be patient. Some may be really adventurous and some NOT so much.

          But most importantly, let the kids tell you what they like and invite them to help you in the kitchen and be part of the cooking and then you can go from there.

          2 Replies
          1. re: kchurchill5

            I second the advice to get kids involved. Get a cookbook that is age appropriate and let them browse through, pick the most appealing recipe, and help to prepare it. My 7 year old has a Betty Crocker cookbook someone gave him and he'll pull that out and ask to make something. He's starting to look at other cookbooks now.

            To sneak veggies in, chop finely and add to sauces. I do this with tomato sauce for pasta, fried rice, etc. Onions, mushrooms, carrots, they all work nicely.

            1. re: tcamp

              Excellent tcamp with the cookbook. Lots of kid friendly ones.

              Yes, grated mushrooms, onions, carrots and zucchini work wonders ... even for those picky adults who have no clue. lol

          2. My guys like potstickers, samosas, kabobs, couscous, risotto, all of which generally include veggies. They like chicken tikka minus the masala and basmati rice with peas. There's a lot that can be done with chicken flavor-wise to make it a slightly different experience: moroccan, jerk, lemon-garlic, herbs de provence, blackened, etc. Fajitas, tacos, or quesadillas and stir-fry are good veggie vehicles. My guys' absolute favorite thing is to have a shrimp boil. Generally, the only veggies involved in that are fresh corn and potatoes, but it's something. They also really like "spaghetti pie", which is a fritatta of leftover pasta with generally broccoli and cheese.

            2 Replies
            1. re: silvergirl

              Congrats to you ! I agree with many previous posters. I have 4 niece and nephews who tend to be VERY picky.

              Lots of the ideas work well. Most of all - get those kids involved.

              Try making fresh blueberry pancakes or waffles. If they like bacon or sausage, why not....a slice or two is just fine--or try up turkey links or veggie links...2 give them a feel of different tastes and textures.

              Making your own granola together can bring interest, giggles and memories while knowing exactly what you put into it (what do THEY want in it too) and there you can have yogurt parfaits or dessert or homemade granola bars for after school and brown bag work lunches.

              Easy greek pizzas on whole wheat pita breads..let them experiment with kalamata olives, different fetas/goat, shredded carrots, green or red pepper, onion, etc.

              Try orzo-it's a great simple alternative that can be doctored up in a number of ways...and can be a great meal warm or room temperature depending on what you put into (salami, veggies, shrimp) with a hunk of good bread and spread..

              I LOVE taco/burrito bar...and you can see if they enjoy pulled chicken or pork (can be done WELL ahead of time) as the alternative to the standard sloppy joe. Also, try MINI burgers...like turkey burgers with diced onion and spinach and different seasonings like worcheshire sauce, etc. to try all kinds.

              Just remember the difference in our taste buds and that of kids. When they think something is SPICY, it is 2 x as spicy to them as it is us. Even though taste buds die off - theirs are more sensitive than ours.

              Veggies and hummus....

              For desserts, on weekends, try making different things like chocolate pudding (there is one from Elie on Foodnetwork) with tofu. I have heard MANY ppl rave about it and who would know about the tofu...

              Berry tarts...fruit pizzas, etc. They can incorporate what they like and change things up...the fresher the better (real peach cobbler, homemade ice cream, strawberry shortcake).

              I've learned the best thing I can do is attempt to make a meal plan a week ahead of time...spend that Saturday afternoon or Sunday prepping it all for the coming week. They get to be part of the process, and therefore, might be more willing to try new things that you like too!

              GOOD LUCK

            2. Dana Zsofia will soon be six. She doesn't get burgers, dogs, fast food, or processed foods. Here are some things I always have in order to put together different combos for meals (all home made). Pureed all vegetable carrot soup, pureed and strained cream of celary soup with cubes of sausage and/or chicken, black beans cooked in chicken stock and partially pureed, simple roast chicken, homemade yogurt, granola, fruit (berries, bananas, all sorts of local tropical fruit), and all vegetables. Also have on hand pastas, tortillas, rice, eggs, couscous, and potatoes. I keep lots of fish in the freezer. I can whip up sushi, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, lao, Vietnamese, Filipino, Italian, Chinese, French, and more. I can make cornbread, irish soda bread, pancakes, dumplings, empanadas, as fits our mood. I also have a life, so use the microwave as a/one cooking appliance for dishes like fish, artichokes, oatmeal, and more. We have fun cooking and eating together!

              1. My Mom always said "If you don't like what I cook, you don't have to eat it. Eat what I serve or cook your own food."

                Mom was right. Don't pander to "picky eaters". I see and hear all too many parents(wives in particular) cooking 3 or more meals for dinner because hubby doesn't like this, and Mary doesn't like that. If they're hungry, they'll eat. Cook what you cook for yourself.

                1 Reply
                1. re: KiltedCook

                  Very true KC, I would however make the food fun for the kids, maybe cut something cute or I may put the past in a little dish for them do dip the pasta in. Nothing different, but just serve it differently. It made it fun for the kids but still having the same thing as the adults but it made them feel special. Cooked carrots but maybe a ranch dip on the side for them. This just them to try some things they normally wouldn't eat then I slowly just stopped serving the dip and they didn't even miss it. Brown rice I mixed with some white, a couple of times and all brown. Mine didn't like tomatoes so I started with cherry or grape tomatoes and dip. Soon, tomatoes were not a problem. Rather than a big burger, I used to make my son a mini one. He loved it. He ate more veggies this way and it was still plenty and he loved it and it certainly wasn't any more difficult. Just a little creativity and you would be surprised how much it can help.

                2. My kids seem to warm up more to things I give silly names to. They are 8&10, and we've always done this, still do.
                  "cheezit fishwitch" - broiled tilapia, topped with a crust made from breadcrumbs, paprika, grated cheddar, (tastes like crushed cheezit crackers) put on a light roll, add more cheese, and your favorite tartar (I take mayo, chopped scallions and a hint of fresh dill).
                  "Pull Apart Chicken" - buy or make your own roasted chicken and let the kids just pull at the whole thing witht their hands.
                  "Make our own Pizza" - We get a dough from trader joes, and make one big pie, and let them each make their own little pies.
                  They also love seafood, anything in a shell they can hold and remove meat from is always a hit with us.
                  To get them to eat vegetables is a bit more difficult - but when they get home from school and want to chill out, I give them a big bowl of romaine, leave stalks whole, carrots, red peppers, all in big pieces and they eat the whole thing. They're really hungry at this time so they don't put up a fuss.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: michele cindy

                    I agree with Kilted Cook. When I didn't like something - my mom actually said, you can eat what I'm cooking or nothing at all. She wouldn't let me get away with making a sandwich just to suit myself. It was a family thing-which meant, not catering to me by her, or catering to myself by getting a diff option. But, if the kids are picky - try making those things to get a variety of things for them to try. But, at meal times, they get one meal. It's not a restaurant.

                  2. I was a very picky eater and had no idea my mom snuck veggies into our food until very recently when she fessed up. Here are a few things she mentioned that I was oblivious to:

                    - Stuffed Peppers: she would make these with lean ground beef and brown rice. I always took the filling out and discarded the pepper, but little did I know she had chopped more peppers very small and mixed them in the filling

                    - To get me to eat fish my mom would cut it in chunks and boil it with salt and let me dip it ketchup, I probably thought it was chicken

                    - We always had make your own tacos but usually used ground beef because it was more economical, we didn't have to put veggies on it but if we chose not to we had to have some raw veggies on the side

                    - I always loved chicken stir-fry as long as I could tell what each vegetable was and there were no onions snuck in there

                    - Mom mom would cook Pinto beans and small chopped veggies in the crock pot all day and then when it came time to eat we could choose what meat (ham, sausage, turkey) and what toppings (sour cream, salsa, cheese) we wanted