As a parent, I think a lot about what my kids put into their bodies. I made the transition to healthier eating when my older children were just starting elementary school. This means many of their food habits were already established and it was a challenge to get my family on board without immediately turning up their noses. Admittedly, my kids, like many others, ate a lot of boxed convenience “kid” foods and didn’t get a large variety of vegetables. My third child was born just as I was changing over to a nutritious whole foods lifestyle. He is consistently a much better eater of vegetables than my older two because he was introduced to them right from the start.

 

Adults often underestimate the ability of kids to enjoy complex foods. With continued exposure, kids can and will appreciate the nuances and flavor of natural, whole foods. As their food role model, educate them on the importance of clean eating and how it helps their bodies and brains perform at their optimum level. Often, they will grow to prefer whole food recipes over convenience packaged foods and will love the feeling they get from eating well.

 

Transitioning older children to a cleaner fuel for their bodies can be difficult, especially if most of their friends are eating packaged, processed foods. My trick to convert my daughters was to include them in the food decisions and the meal prep. I would choose two to three options for dinner and let them vote on which they would like to make. Then, they would help me cut up the vegetables, or stir the saucepan, or flip meat on the grill—whatever age-appropriate tasks were available for them.

 

These two creamy macaroni and cheese recipes were part of my transitional foods that I still make for my kids (and for myself). Getting kids excited and involved in the meal prep process allows you to talk about why certain foods are better for their bodies. When they help prepare the recipe, they know exactly what’s going into their meal so nothing is a “hidden surprise.” It also allows for special bonding and conversation time that you may not otherwise get during the day. Children love to sample as they cook, and they are so proud of their accomplishment when they can say that they created tonight’s tasty dinner from scratch.

 

Broccoli Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese

broccoli cheddar mac and cheese

[Photo credit: Kari Lund]

 

Prep time: 20 min

Cook time: 30 min

Yield: Serves 4

 

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz gluten free noodles (corn and rice blends tend to hold up best)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, steamed and pureed
  • 1/2 cup cooked and pureed pumpkin or squash
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I used the kind in the carton rather than canned since it's less coconut flavored - or use any other milk)
  • 1/2 -3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose gluten free flour (optional, for a thicker sauce)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets (about 1 heaping cup)
  • 1/4 cup chicharrones (pork rinds), ground to a crumb consistency (place in a zip-top bag and smash with your fist or a small mallet)

 

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook noodles according to their directions for al dente.
  3. While noodles are cooking, combine all other ingredients (except broccoli) in a saucepan and heat while whisking until hot and slightly thickened.
  4. For an extra smooth sauce, blend with an immersion blender or pour into a regular blender to blend before mixing with the noodles.
  5. Drain noodles once they are cooked and place in a lightly greased oven proof casserole dish or loaf pan. Alternately, you can divide among 6-8 ramekins.
  6. Pour cheese sauce over noodles, add broccoli, and stir to combine. If sauce seems too thick, stir in a few additional tablespoons of coconut milk.
  7. Top with chicharrones crumbs.
  8. Bake 25-30 minutes until chicharrones are lightly browned and macaroni is hot and bubbling.

 

Bacon and Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese

bacon gouda mac and cheese

[Photo credit: Kari Lund]

 

Prep time: 20 min

Cook time: 30 min

Yield: Serves 4

 

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 oz gluten free noodles (corn and rice blends tend to hold up best)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, steamed and pureed
  • 1/2 cup cooked and pureed pumpkin or squash
  • 1 cup smoked gouda cheese, shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I used the kind in the carton rather than canned since it's less coconut flavored - or use any other milk)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons all purpose gluten free flour (optional, for a thicker sauce)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 4-6 slices of cooked bacon, diced
  • 1/4 cup chicharrones (pork rinds), ground to a crumb consistency (place in a zip-top bag and smash with your fist or a small mallet)

 

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook noodles according to their directions for al dente.
  3. While noodles are cooking, combine all other ingredients (except bacon) in a saucepan and heat while whisking until hot and slightly thickened.
  4. For an extra smooth sauce, blend with an immersion blender or pour into a regular blender to blend before mixing with the noodles.
  5. Drain noodles once they are cooked and place in a lightly greased oven proof casserole dish or loaf pan. Alternately, you can divide among 6-8 ramekins.
  6. Pour cheese sauce over noodles, add bacon, and stir to combine.
  7. Top with chicharrones crumbs.
  8. Bake 25-30 minutes until chicharrones are lightly browned and macaroni is hot and bubbling.

 

Note:

Both recipes can be made ahead by preparing the noodles and sauce in advance and combining in your chosen baking dish. Do not put the chicharrones on top until ready to bake or they will get mushy and will not brown. Cover and refrigerate up to two days. When ready to bake, sprinkle with chicharrones and bake 40-45 minutes if you are placing the dish in oven straight from the fridge.

 

More family friendly meal ideas:

Comfort Fuel: Steak and Vegetable Shepherd's Pie

 

 

 

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