Do you need a new menu for dinner that isn’t super difficult but the whole family will love? I make tuna casserole for my daycare kids and they can’t get enough of it. I love it too. I have a formula for making my own homemade hamburger helper type meals that save me time and money on food, but are made without all the harmful chemicals that come in processed food. This tuna casserole is a spin on that idea.
Tag Archive for healthy food for kids
Do you know how many chemicals are in hot pockets? You’d be amazed at how unhealthy they are. They are convenient and can be delicious, especially if you make them yourself. Using pizza crust to make them is tender and flavorful. I use the pioneer woman’s pizza crust recipe because it’s perfect every time. She’s knows what’s up! Click here for the dough recipe.
My daycare kids LOVE my world famous green beans.
A few years ago, when I had some older boys enrolled in care, they would ask me to cook this green bean recipe all the time. I would make them as soon as we could get enough green beans from the garden. They dubbed them world famous and who am I to argue with that. Pre-teen boys know where it’s at! It’s comfort food.
Do you look at planning your childcare menu and feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to begin? Making a plan for your childcare menu is a big job. I would highly recommend getting on a food program because they will give you guidelines to go by. I don’t whole heartedly agree with all of the USDA rules, but I do know the program can help kids get better nutrition than they otherwise would. Think of providers that just make a package of ramen and that’s all the kids get. They would like it, but it isn’t optimal for children’s health.
Do you get tired of your kids acting out or having trouble napping? Did you know food additives can cause a whole plethora of behavior problems AND health problems like cancer and other illnesses? Do you run out of energy every day before you run out of day? I promise, if you change your diet and the kid’s diet, you will change your life!
Nutrition is important for kids.
Their growing bodies need nutrients to grow strong and healthy and for proper brain development. Kids are with us in care for 2/3 of their meals so what we feed them is so important. You may think, what difference does it make if mom or dad drives through Mikey D’s on the way home from daycare and gets the kids a happy meal every day. That’s when it makes even more difference because the only nutritious food the kids may be getting is in your care.
Think about it. It’s worth the effort to do your best to make super healthy meals for your kids. It’s not the easy way, but it’s the right way. Our kids deserve our very best. I read a book years ago that changed my life, click on the image below to check it out.
When preparing your meals, it’s best to try not to use processed foods. These foods are full of chemicals, preservatives, and extra sugar, salt and fat. They do not promote good health in children or any of us for that matter. You can make some chicken strips for the kids almost as easily as you can throw some frozen chicken blobs on a pan and throw them in the oven. All you have to do is cut up some chicken breast, toss them in flour, salt and pepper and toss them on a pan and throw them in the oven to bake. It’s not that much harder to make things from scratch.
If you do use processed foods, which we all do sometimes, try to give the kids a balance of healthy verses processed. It’s easy to cut up some apples or bananas instead of reaching for a can of peaches that are void of any of their original nutritional value. So if you’re going to serve the kids hot dogs, which we all know they freaking love, give them some quality sides to go with it.
Now where do we start with this daunting task of meal planning?
- Decide how many weeks your cycle menu will be. The minimum on the food program is 2 weeks. You should plan whatever works for you. I do 4 weeks because I do my main staple grocery shopping every 4 weeks when I get my food check. That’s what works best for me.
- Pull up excel if you want a program that will make neat columns for you on the computer, or grab a notebook and write out a space for each meal. For me, I would write out 20 squares to fill with meals.
- Make a list of the proteins you like to use. We don’t have a steak and shrimp budget at Little Sprouts, so my protein items include: Peanut butter, cottage cheese, cheese, ground beef, chicken, turkey or ham, eggs, hot dogs once a month, beans, sausage, and canned tuna. These are the meat or meat alternates that I find the kids eat well. I can find a variety of ways to use them as well. I get bored with the same ole same ole around here and no one wants to throw away food every day, so stick to what the kids like for the most part.
- Remember that a new food has to be introduced 11 times before it’s a familiar food, so please don’t give up on feeding the kids healthy items. Click here to see how to get kids to eat healthy food. It can be done. My kids are over here eating broccoli, cauliflower, greens, salads, peas, and all kinds of other things like brussel sprouts that everyone says kids won’t eat. They love it and I love feeding them well.
- Now, next to each protein, list all the ways it can be fixed. I like to leave places on my menu that say something like ground beef and then pasta in the bread column. When I do that, I can make spaghetti, goulash, soup, cheeseburger mac, or a hundred other things so our menu won’t get so boring for me. Decide if you want to do it that way or have specific dishes listed on your menu. Don’t forget peanut butter, boxed mac and cheese and other meats/meat alternates need supplemental protein. You can use cheese sticks, cottage cheese as a side dish, chopped up ham or hot dogs, or whatever you like to make these proteins count.
- See how many menu items you have. Are there around 20 there, or around 10 if that’s your goal? If so, try to take one or two off or add one or two until you have the number you need for your weeks of menu. You can repeat the same ones if they are popular and easy on the budget, so do that if you need more and can’t think of any.
- Next, write in the bread item that will go with that meal. If it’s spaghetti, of course it would be pasta, if it’s sausage biscuits, you would write or type biscuits. If you want to do cheese and crackers, that’s a great kid friendly meal. If you have a meal like scrambled eggs (kids LOVE breakfast for lunch), you could serve toast, biscuits or muffins for a bread to go with it.
- Once you have the number of main dishes you need, add fruits and vegetables. I love serving two veggies for lunch, but the USDA is about to make that against the rules, so we will need to be serving a fruit and a vegetable for lunch each day. Let me repeat again, I hate that rule. Okay, moving on. Some providers have been told the menu needs to just say fruit on one line and vegetable on the other. Some have been told that all items that will be served ever must be listed somewhere on the cycle menu. Check with your food program sponsor to find out how they want your menu done. If you need to list each fruit and veggie that will be served, we can make a list of those now. Then plug those items into the menus they sound good with. If I am going to make tuna casserole, I always put peas in it, so I can list peas there with a fruit for a side dish such as a banana or an apple.
- Easy peasy, now your lunches are done. Let’s move on to breakfast. Breakfast needs to have a bread and a fruit or veggie. Soon we will be allowed to substitute a meat for the bread a few days a week, but you don’t have to, so we can focus on the bread and fruit for now. My kids aren’t big into eating a lot of veggies for breakfast, so I usually just do fruit. Make a list of all the breads you could serve for breakfast. Pancakes, toast, muffins, cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, rice, French toast, and grits are all good breakfast breads. I’m sure you can think of 100 more as well.
- Now make a list of how many cycle menu days you have and plug one of those into each day. You can repeat any menu items you wish, so don’t worry about that.
- Add a fruit (or veggie) to each bread or meat item you have chosen to serve.
- Now look at your meal, if it’s super easy like a bowl of cheerios and some bananas, put that with your lunch that is a little more work. If you are making a casserole that takes 30 minutes to mix up, that’s a great day for cereal. If you need to make pancakes that day, serve that with an easy lunch like cheese and crackers. That way you can avoid being in the kitchen for too long in one day. We all know how that can turn out. Remember also, if you make something like pancakes from scratch, you can make 2 or 3 or 10 day’s worth at once, even on a Saturday and store them in the freezer so your breakfasts are much less stress. I urge you to make things yourself to avoid as many chemicals in the kid’s diet as possible.
- Now you have breakfast and lunch each day, we just need a snack. I find serving a morning snack makes the kids too full to eat a good lunch. Young kids need their meals to be about every three hours, so I do breakfast at 8:30 and lunch at 11:30 so I don’t have to worry about that. Then we have snack after nap which is at 3:00. It works really well for us. Snack needs to have a fruit or veggie, OR bread, OR meat/meat alternate, OR milk. You just pick any two. I’m not sure how that will change with the new rules coming out, but for now, it’s pick any two. I tend to choose bread and fruit and serve it with water, but you can choose whatever works for you. List out what you’d like to serve to the kids. I do things like muffins, toast, crackers, cereal, pretzels, cookies, and things like that with whatever fruit is in season. Occasionally we do carrot sticks or something else in the veggie category, but usually it’s fruit.
- Now that your menu rough draft is sketched out, look at each meal and check for a variety of colors. An all yellow meal is not that appetizing, so don’t serve mac and cheese, bananas, yellow squash and cheddar cheese. Do you have a variety of textures too? If everything is mushy it’s not a pleasant dining experience either. Do some hard, some soft, some crunchy, some smooth, etc. Make sure to mix temperatures in your lunches too. If your entrée is cold, make sure some of the sides are warm like roasted broccoli or something else that’s tasty. If your menu looks balanced, affordable, and easy to manage, you’re in good shape. Just print it up and start using it.
You are more than welcome to pop on over to the Little Sprouts Facebook page and ask any question you may have on menu planning or leave a comment here and I’ll be sure to answer. I know it has taken me years to get a good rhythm going with my menu and sometimes I have to make changes.
I make a grocery list that has every item I buy at the store on it, and it lists how many times I will be serving each item I need for my menu in that 4 weeks. This way, when I make my monthly or weekly shopping list, I can refer to this list and see what I need to check my supply of. It saves me tons of time and I already know how many servings of cheese I approximately need for the month.
I buy lots of food in bulk like beans, rice, oatmeal and other things in 10 or 25 pound bags online. I also buy pasta and things by the case. I buy produce weekly in the winter and in the summer, I pick it from the garden and we eat what’s growing, so my monthly trip is enough to supplement our supply. This saves me tons of time and money on my menu.
In a recent food program meeting I attended, the monitors showed us if we wanted to serve snack cakes, like little Debbie Swiss cake rolls, the serving for an after school child is 6 or 8 cake rolls. For a toddler, you would have to serve 4. I know there are children who would eat that many, and I know it’s easy to use prepackaged sweets as a snack, but please don’t serve things like that to your kids. You can do so much better than Pop Tarts and Little Debbies. Your kids deserve it!
If you want to serve them a cake, just whip up a batch of cupcakes or cookies on occasion for a special treat and stick to healthier options on the regular. Their future depends on good health.
If you want to serve flavored yogurt, you can avoid a ton of sugar and chemicals by buying a quart of plain yogurt, adding a few tablespoons of honey and come chopped fruit. You will know what’s going into your kid’s diet, and you will avoid feeding them this:
What even is potassium sorbate?
Read labels, do some research, think about what you are putting in their bodies. You’ll be so glad you did when you see them growing healthy and strong. For many years in daycare, I thought the easy way was the best way, but then I discovered that it’s not that much harder to feed them really well and I feel so much better myself. I have very few behavior problems from my kids, they rest well, they are growing, and I have energy, can think more clearly and have a lot more patience with them. I KNOW that food is the reason. Putting in the extra effort in what they eat makes my job so much easier and more fun!
Check out the blog for many dishes kids love to eat that are manageable to make for them. Our favorite taco soup is posted, my world famous roasted broccoli is there, as well as many other dishes the kids love to eat. Also, come back and check out next week’s post: Top 10 Kid Meals that Aren’t JUNK! Don’t forget to watch the blog for some new recipes I’m working on for the menu.
Take the extra time to give the best of yourself to your kids. You will take more pride in yourself and the work you are doing and it will be a lot more fun.
Don’t forget to Pin this post for later!
Cooking with kids is great fun and there are so many things kids can learn. Math, science, motor skills, cooperation, taking turns, and so many other things about cooking are beneficial to kids. In addition, kids are 80% more likely to try new foods if they helped prepare them. Click here to see more reasons why you should cook with kids!
Remember to be patient with cooking with kids. They will make mistakes, but it’s okay, that’s how they learn. I have been cooking for over 30 years and I still make mistakes. Make sure you get all the ingredients prepared and out before you invite the kids to the activity to prevent disaster when they get bored. This casserole is teeming with great nutrition for kid’s growing bodies. My kids love egg casserole and so do I. Yum yum.
“Popping” eggs as my kids call it, or one boy always said “hatching” them, is a great motor skill for kids to learn. It’s hard to crack an egg successfully and early learning helps develop great skills for later in life. This egg casserole had a lot of eggs, so it was a great opportunity for each child to get to try more than once. Some of them didn’t want to after the first smashed egg flew all over the table, but that’s okay too. They don’t have to do it if they don’t want to.
Dumping ingredients into bowls helps even one year olds learn to control their fine motor skills and helps them build their confidence.
This breakfast casserole has several servings of vegetables in it as well as nutritious eggs, cheese, and tortillas. All of the ingredients are dumped into a bowl and mixed, then poured into a casserole dish, so most of the steps can be done by the children without much assistance, which helps build their confidence levels in cooking.
Notice in this picture, you see my food mover. I used this tool to help scrape the whole eggs that fell on the table so they wouldn’t be wasted. Being prepared for the cooking disasters is 9/10 of the way to success with the kids.
This casserole tasted amazing! I recommend you get in the kitchen with our kids and make this or some other recipe as soon as you can.
- Dozen Eggs
- 2 C. Milk
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Minced veggies of your choice (we used broccoli and kale)
- 2 C. Shredded cheese of your choice (we used mozerella)
- 12 chopped corn tortillas
- Wash hands and have kids wash theirs.
- Mix eggs and milk and beat well.
- Add seasoning, veggies and cheese.
- Mix well.
- Bake at 350 for about one hour or until egg is set in the center.
- Breakfast meats such as cooked bacon, cooked sausage or ham could be added as well.
The month of August has been riddled with disappointment in the Little Sprouts garden. We fought squash bugs that decimated all the squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and now melons. We fought armadillos, raccoons, and possums. It seems like everything that could come against our growing has. But the good news is we still grew 115 pounds of food in August.
Normally August would be our glut of produce month, but the animals stripped the peaches, plums and apples off the trees. In addition, they stole most of the melons and stripped the tomatoes and tomatillos bare of all green fruit.
We have been busy picking squash bugs by the hundreds, and trapping live animals and relocating them in the country where there aren’t any people living. We have trapped 4 raccoons and 7 possums to date. We have evidence of an armadillo and at least one more raccoon that remain at large.
Most of our garden has died off from heat or bugs, but we are still growing sweet potatoes and okra. Our tomato and tomatillo plants are flowering again now that temps are under the high 90s every day again. Maybe if we don’t get a frost, we will have another round of fruits to enjoy. We are still growing hot peppers as well.
We have planted quite a few seeds for a fall garden and they are beginning to germinate now. I also purchased some fox and coyote urine to try to deter any more animals from wanting to hang out in the garden. We do have one helpful creature hanging out in the garden, this cute watch kitty. She’s exterminated a few pests for us and all she asks in return is to lay in the cool dirt of the garden (sometimes on a seedling or two) and to get a few pats on the head or scratches on the ear. She’s a keeper.
Our total produce production so far this season is 453 pounds of healthy, delicious, chemical free food for the kids and Mr. Kent and I to enjoy. Not what we had hoped, but definitely nothing to sneeze at. We have eaten watermelon, cantaloupe, hot peppers, okra, tomatoes, carrots, tomatillos, onions, Swiss chard, butternut squash, garlic, green beans, drying beans, cabbage, spaghetti squash, peaches, figs, peas, broccoli, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, spinach, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, radishes, and Brussels sprouts. What’s growing in your garden today?
Granola is a staple in my house and I make it often. A week or so ago someone called me a granola eating tree hugger, and I was so touched. I told them that was the nicest thing I had been called in a while.
Making snack mix is an easy, fun activity that kids can do with just a little guidance. Kids love to make their own food and are more likely to make healthy choices if they are involved in the preparation and choices of what they are eating. Click here to see how I get my kids to try and enjoy healthy foods.
To make a snack mix, you can choose from multiple ingredients. Pretty much whatever you can dream up can be mixed together. We use dried fruits, different crackers and pretzels, dry cereals, mini chocolate chips, granola, marshmallows, and whatever else we have on hand that we think sounds tasty.
I let the kids measure the ingredients so we can practice math skills. We usually do a cup of the cereals, crackers, etc. to a half of a cup of dried fruits such as raisins and a fourth of a cup of something like mini chocolate chips.
First when doing any sort of cooking with kids, make sure everyone washes their hands!
Then the kids can begin taking turns adding the ingredients to their mix. We made a double batch of this mix to have plenty for everyone, so I divided each ingredient into two measurements so there would be more turns per person. Making sure everyone gets as many turns as possible is a great key to success when cooking with multiple children.
If you have several children you are trying to make a recipe with, there are many opportunities for melt downs and mishaps. Be prepared! Get all the ingredients and tools prepared ahead of time. Let the kids know everyone will get a turn, so they will be more likely to be patient. Taking turns is a very important school readiness and social skill that kids NEED for their future success. Cooking is a great way to teach it.
Once all the ingredients are added, it’s time for everyone to take a turn to stir. Kids LOVE to stir, so anything we make is sure to have lots of steps that call for stirring. Once you have the mix mixed, it’s time to dish it up and serve.
What kind of simple recipes have you had success making with kids?
Cooking with kids does not have to be super difficult or elaborate. Anything that gives them hands on exposure to the process of preparing food has untold benefits. Every year at Little Sprouts, we make a cookbook as a Christmas gift for the daycare parents. Click here if you want to find out more about how I do it. It is full of fun recipes the kids enjoy making that are not too complicated. It also has pictures of the kids cooking and eating the food so it’s a fun keepsake for the parents.
Cooking with kids is fun and it teaches them math, science, and pre-reading skills, plus it gives them fine motor and sensory stimulation. Cooking healthy foods with kids helps them to become familiar with the foods and gives them more interest in trying something they haven’t tried or liked before.
Fun and healthy fruit kabobs are a cinch to make and the kids LOVE making AND eating them. Any time we make a recipe, I print it on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall next to the table. This helps me refer to the steps, but I also read each step to the kids so they get an understanding that words have meaning and I need the important words to know what to do. It’s a great primer for reading!
The first step is to choose some fruit that can be pierced on a kabob. For these kabobs we used bananas, oranges, grapes, and apples. You also need to gather some skewers. I used wooden barbeque skewers that I had on hand.
Have the kids wash their hands and meet you at the preparation place.
Give the kids fruit pieces and butter knives and let them cut the fruit into pieces however they can. Sometimes you might end up having to cut some of the harder fruits for them, but let them do as much as they can on their own. It’s great for their self-esteem.
The next step is to cut a lemon in half and have the kids squeeze lemon juice on the fruit so it will not turn brown. Lemons take a lot of muscle to squeeze, so with these preschoolers, it was enough to let them all take a turn at squeezing it.
Next, give the kids the skewers and let them stab the fruit and work it to the end of the stick until it is full. Since this snack is not cooked, I let the kids make a kabob and then eat it so there wouldn’t be any mixing up of kabobs.
Once the kids have the fruit on the kabob, I take a pair of scissors and cut the point off the stick so they won’t injure themselves while eating.
These fruit kabobs are one of the favorite things we make and they are super healthy for the kids with all of that great fruit. If it were summer time you could use melons, berries or other seasonal fruit for the kabobs as well. Pineapple is great on kabobs as well, but sadly, I am allergic, so I don’t buy or serve it. Use your imagination and you can think of some wonderful combinations for the kids to enjoy.
Enjoy the yumminess!
Cooking with kids is a great activity. It teaches fine motor skills, critical thinking, math, science, and a multitude of other things. Kids are more likely to try new things, if they help prepare them and they just love to cook. Click here to see more reasons why cooking with kids is a great idea!
We make lots of soups around Little Sprouts because they are healthy, the kids love them, and many different things can be used to make them. Soup is a “whatever you have on hand” kinda dish. Soup is one of the most popular dishes on my menu.
The basics for making up soup recipes starts with your main item. This can be beans, meat or a grain. For our daycare menu, we usually start with chicken or ground beef. Once you have your main item chosen, the soup can be prepared basically the same way every time. You should choose a starch before you begin cooking as well. If I use noodles, I will usually not add potatoes to the soup.
Step 1, chop an onion. As much as my daughter hates to admit it, most good dishes start with an onion.
Step 2, heat up your soup pot with a tablespoon or two of oil. We use olive oil at Little Sprouts most of the time.
Step 3, cook the onion on low until it’s translucent.
Step 4, add meat and cook and stir it until browned.
Step 5, add your longest cooking vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and celery.
Step 6, add some soup stock or water and bring soup to a boil. Cook until vegetables are fork tender.
Step 7, add shorter cooking vegetables such as peas, corn, broccoli, or whatever you have on hand that you want to use.
Step 8, add salt and pepper to taste, a clove of crushed garlic, and a half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of thyme, sage, oregano, or another herb you like.
Step 9, cook until all veggies are done.
For this soup, we used potatoes, corn, carrots, and green beans. The meat was ground beef. It was delicious!
- 2 T. Olive oil
- 1 onion
- 2 potatoes
- 1 pound ground beef
- 3 carrots
- 1/2 c. peas
- 1 c. corn
- 1 c. fresh green beans
- 4 c. chicken stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1 clove garlic
- Chop onion.
- Add olive oil to pan and heat on medium heat.
- Add onion to pan, cook and stir until translucent.
- Add ground beef and cook until browned.
- Add green beans, diced carrots, diced potatoes, and chicken stock.
- Bring soup to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender.
- Add peas, corn, crushed garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.
- Cook until vegetables are done.