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5 Healthy Versions of Your Toddler’s Favorite Foods

In the quest to raise healthy eaters and healthy children, parents are often looking for ways to improve meals and include healthy foods. One way is to do this is tweak familiar “kid food” recipes to make them healthier.

There are reasons kids love their chicken nuggets, French fries, and pasta. Many of these kiddie favorites allow children to self-feed, which taps into their need to become independent. Furthermore, many kids’ meals have a texture or flavor that appeals to kids  (specifically sweet, salty, or fatty flavors). And when food is uncomplicated (read: plain), children are able to identify it, which helps build security with that food.

The trick to make healthy recipes appealing is to consider these same characteristics so your healthy recipe can be just as successful as its unhealthful counterpart. With that in mind, here are a few healthy alternatives to the most popular kid foods:

World’s best chicken tender recipe

(from Maryann Jacobsen)

Serves: 4


1 egg, beaten

1 pound chicken tenders or chicken breast cut into 1-2 inch pieces

1 cup bread crumbs (or 3/4 cup bread crumbs and 1/4 cup flaxseed meal)

½ cup Parmesan cheese

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp ground mustard

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Beat egg in a small bowl (use butter for a richer nugget) and cut the chicken tender pieces in half. Add dry ingredients and spices to a medium size bowl.

Dip chicken in egg or butter and then dredge well through dry mixture, using your hands to add more mixture on top so they are coated.

Place chicken on a cookie sheet lined with foil (sprayed with cooking spray) or parchment paper. Cook for 20–22 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Freeze what you don’t use for quick meals.

Homemade sweet potato fries

(from Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School)

Makes 2 servings


1 large sweet potato

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt 


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Peel the potato (or leave the skin on); if you wash the skin, make sure to dry it completely before adding other ingredients. Cut the sweet potato in half, then slice lengthwise into 3/4-inch strips. Cut the slices into 1/2-inch fries.

In a Ziploc bag, combine the potato fries, olive oil, salt and pepper. Close and shake the ingredients to coat the potatoes. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray and spread the fries in an even layer. Do not let fries touch.

Bake for 15 minutes; turn the potatoes over with a spatula and bake for another 10 minutes.

Barbecue chicken pizzas

(from Jessica Cox, RD, Culinary Nutritionist)

Makes 6 servings


Barbecue Sauce*

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz. can tomato sauce

2 Tbsps tomato paste

2 Tbsps molasses

1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp cider vinegar

1/4 tsp pepper


1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 medium yellow squash, halved and thinly sliced

6 (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas

3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (or leftover cooked chicken)

1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

2 green onions, chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute or until tender. Remove from heat and stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, molasses, honey, cider vinegar, and pepper.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in another medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and squash. Sauté 5 minutes or until tender.

Place tortillas on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spread 2 Tbsps barbecue sauce over each tortilla; top evenly with chicken, vegetable mixture, and cheese.

Bake 15 minutes or until cheese melts and tortillas are crisp. Drizzle with remaining barbecue sauce, and sprinkle with green onion just before serving.

*You can use a bottled sauce to save time.

Better mac ’n’ cheese

(from Elizabeth Ward, author of Expect the Best Pregnancy and MyPlate for Moms)

Makes 6 servings 


8 ounces whole wheat elbow macaroni

1 1/4 cups low-fat, salt free cottage cheese

1 1/2 cups pureed butternut squash

3 tsps olive oil, divided

1 large onion, chopped

1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 Tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Coat a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Rinse with cold water. Cover and reserve.

Place cottage cheese and butternut squash in a food processor and blend until smooth, about 45 seconds. Reserve.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked macaroni, cottage cheese mixture, onion, cheddar cheese, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix thoroughly. Transfer macaroni mixture to the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tsps olive oil, breadcrumbs, and grated cheese and sprinkle on top of macaroni.

Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until hot and slightly bubbly. Serve warm.

Banana Popsicles

(from Julie Swift, registered dietitian, nutrition instructor, and mom of a two year-old)


1 banana

popsicle sticks


Cut a fresh banana in half. Peel the banana and put it on a Popsicle stick. Wrap it in foil and freeze. In a couple hours you have a delicious frozen treat without all of the added sugar or artificial colors.

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