From speaking to my parents, other parents, and reading mommy (or daddy!) blogs, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to cooking for children:
1. It has to be quick: most households are dual-income now (yay women!) and so between dropping the kids off at daycare/school, going to work, picking kids up and driving to after-school activities, not much time is left for making dinner.
2. It has to be simple. because of #1, parents can’t spend an hour making dinner – sometimes they barely have 5 minutes, so it’s crucial that recipes don’t have too many complicated and time-consuming steps (like reducing a sauce, baking for 30 minutes, etc).
3. It should be fun to eat: whether it’s reading or playing in the sandbox, kids love to have fun – same applies when eating. Kids love multi-colored cereals and funny-shaped pastas. It’s much easier to get your kids to sit down at the dinner table when they have pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
4. It would be nice if it was healthy: while all mothers of course want their children to eat as healthy as possible, not all mothers makes this a priority, because of #1, 2 and 3. It’s much more fun for kids to play with dinosaur chicken nuggets than eat a bowl of broccoli. Plus, parents don’t have time to make 2 different meals, so they’d like to make something they can feel not guilty about eating.
Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to experiment with the source itself: kids! My cousin Sara let me come to her home and cook for her two kids (Gabe – 4 yrs, Russell – 2 yrs) and her sister-in-law’s two kids (Marlee – 4 yrs, Sunny – 9 months). Quite the challenge – an infant, a toddler and young children. My objective was this: get all of the kids to eat vegetables. Of course, I had just the fix: zucchini spaghetti!
There are two options when trying to introduce your kids to vegetables via zucchini pasta:
1. Trick them by saying you’re making spaghetti. Depending on the age of your child, some simply just won’t eat a vegetable if they know it’s a vegetable. With spiralized pasta, they won’t know the difference!
2. Cook with them. Ideally, we want to teach our kids from a young age about the importance of fresh, healthy ingredients and show them how to cook. They’ll become better eaters, more self-sufficient and more aware of the world around them.
Luckily, kids love to make zucchini pasta! I learned this very quickly when Marlee and Gabe wanted to spiralize the zucchinis. Sara had made this once before for her two kids (Gabe and Russell), so Gabe ran right to the refigerator and grabbed a zucchini (how cute!). Immediately, Marlee (also 4 years old) wanted to be part of the action and asked to spiralize. She especially liked to crunch on the core of the zucchini at the end.
NOTE: Be very careful if you spiralize with kids. The blades are extremely sharp and can easily cut through skin. Make sure you watch your kids spiralizing and warn them before not to touch the blades.
Even baby Sunny (9 months) enjoyed sucking on the zucchini noodles.
I made a beef bolognese (same recipe as the Bikini Bolognese just substituted ground turkey with ground beef and chicken broth with beef broth), since kids love the texture of the beef sauce and toddlers love that they can grab onto the chunks of meat. Also, this is an easy sauce that can be made in a crockpot or made on a Sunday evening and frozen for the week ahead.
Once dinner was ready, there were two challenges with Russell (2 years):
1. He thought the pasta was too hot at first, so we had to put it in the refrigerator to cool first.
2. He didn’t like when the noodles were too long. It was hard for him to chew, so Sara fed him the shorter noodles.
TIP: For toddlers like Russell, cut the zucchini noodles before cooking them. Take a scissor and cut them like you’d cut a piece of ribbon. For kids, the easiest length is about 4 inches.
Marlee and Gabe had a ball. Marlee was adorable, copying Gabe when he was playing with his noodles. Of course, we don’t want our children ever “playing” with their food, but in this case, Sara was happy that all of the kids were eating a big bowl of vegetables! What a healthy, fun way to incorporate more vegetables into your family’s diets: ditch the broccoli mac n’ cheese for zucchini pasta!
All in all, it was fun getting Inspiralized with my cousin’s family. Now it’s your turn…. what will you make for your kids?