Spinach — Your Kid’s New Best Friend…?

Well that may be a stretch, but I bet I can help them get better acquainted.  My last post referenced a dinnertime arsenal, a few items I’ve found make a difference as I try to create enjoyable meals during that crazy hour right after work.  My go-to items (for now at least) are fresh spinach, a food processor/chopper, a slow cooker, and bread or noodles.  Here are a few ways I put them to work!!

I always have a container of baby spinach in the house because I use it in place of lettuce on my sandwiches, sautee it up for a quick side dish, etc.  I learned quickly that is a GREAT way to get a super healthy veggie into your kid’s belly.  It’s practically undetectable when it’s chopped up, and it wilts extremely quickly in warm food.  If little green specks won’t deter your child from eating something, give one of these ideas a try!

1.       Spinach and cheese scramble:  Breakfast for dinner happens in our house every once in a while.  My little guy enjoys eggs, the protein is good for him, and I can incorporate a bunch of healthy things, like spinach, as I scramble.   Chop up a few leaves of baby spinach into tiny pieces and drop them on top of your egg mixture once you toss it into your pan.  Sprinkle some cheese in if you’d like, or maybe a little crumbled turkey sausage.  I try to keep my eggs in one piece – one flip – so I can slide it out and cut it into bite-sized squares for easy pickup.  This also means that the spinach cooks in on one side, so when you flip the egg the green flecks are barely visible.  Serve that side up to your little sleuth and he or she will probably never know there’s spinach on the plate.   Make 2 and you’ve got breakfast for the next morning!

2.       Spinach grilled cheese:  What kid doesn’t like a gooey grilled cheese sandwich?  Yes, that is the standard fall-back dinner in our house when the first option fails.  Up the ante and add some finely chopped spinach between the bread, let it melt into the cheese, and watch your little ankle biter gobble it up none the wiser.  Not a bad idea for mom or dad either!

3.       Pasta marinara with spinach:  Elbow noodles, jarred or homemade marinara sauce, and chopped spinach make a great quick and healthy dinner.  I’m drawn to the natural or organic jarred sauces these days.  They’re surprisingly affordable at the regular grocery store and I know there’s not a lot of extra “junk” in them.  Drop in some small chunks of chicken and top with a little cheese for a tot’s version of chicken parmesan!

CHOP-A-HOLIC…  I’ve had a mini electric chopper in my “rarely used items” cabinet for years.  I hardly ever pulled it out because it wasn’t really strong or powerful enough to take on true “food processing” jobs.  But now I’ve found the most wonderful use for it:  turning every day dinner items into something my little guy will eat!  No, I haven’t reverted back to mushy, liquid, baby food-like stuff.  I’m merely taking regular items that I know he’ll like, and converting them to a form that HE knows he’ll like.

Example…  This winter I simmered a big pot of chili in the slow cooker all day while we were at work.  I felt pretty confident that my son would enjoy a bowl of it; how could he not?  It looks like spaghetti sauce, he’s not opposed to meat, and I was willing to bypass the beans for him.  So what was the verdict?  Emphatic head shaking, crocodile tears, and a sippy cup of milk hurled across the room.  OK OK son, have some cornbread while I figure this out….  Well that ended up being a PB&J night which was perfectly fine with him!

The next night, still knowing deep down that it’s not the FLAVOR of the chili that he doesn’t like, but rather the TEXTURE and APPEARANCE, I conducted an experiment.  While I boiled some elbow noodles, out came the rarely used mini chopper to break down a tot-sized helping of homemade chili, beans and all.  Pour chunky chili “sauce” over elbow noodles, sprinkle a little cheese on top, let it cool, and you have a kid-friendly bowl of chili mac even a Cincinnati native would be proud of.  The verdict?  An excited grin and two little hands dying to dig in.  He saw noodles and sauce, but I saw veggies, beans, and lean meat — slightly transformed.  I’ve successfully done this trick with other crock pot dinners such as vegetable beef stew, and even a Latin-inspired dish full of meat, tomatoes, and veggies.

That is a perfect example of how 2 items in my arsenal can come together and relieve stress at dinner time.  And a slow cooker almost always results in leftovers.  Perfect for child, perfect for parents….

I’ve also had a lot of success using the chopper to turn meat, veggies, and cheese into perfect little quesadillas.  Again, I could put a pile of delicious roasted chicken and a side of carrots on a plate for my son and, depending on his mood, he’ll either eat it or feed it to the dog one morsel at a time.

Side note, on those dog-feeding evenings, he tries so hard to be incognito about it.  He watches me intently and does his best to hide the fact that he’s dropping carrots and meat on the floor.  Sometimes he’ll actually PRETEND to eat something out of his hand before he throws it overboard.  I give him credit for creativity; perhaps he’ll win an Oscar one day…

Back to the quesadillas…  I recently cooked a magnificent pork roast in the trusty slow cooker with the intention to use tender pulled pork in a batch of enchiladas.  I’ve melted things in tortillas for my son before, so I wanted to see if I could use the same ingredients in his dinner that my husband and I were going to have in ours.  Again, the trick is to make the food look like something he’s comfortable with!  So I put a nice helping of the moist pork in the mini chopper, added a spoonful of pinto beans, some tomatoes, corn, and spices, and gave it just enough of a whir to chop everything up.  Not pureed by any means – just chopped.  Encase that mixture in a folded tortilla with a little cheese as glue, crisp up both sides in a pan, and voila!  No short order cooking that night!  He ate exactly what we ate, just in a slightly different package.  And naturally there were leftovers; you couldn’t ask for anything easier!

LET’S TALK NUGGETS!  Chicken nuggets, fish nuggets, any nugget will do with my son.  While I do keep an emergency box of chicken nuggets in the freezer, my preference is to know EXACTLY what lies beneath the breading.  So that means I need to make ‘em myself!  And it couldn’t be easier, even on a weeknight!   Here are the steps:

1.        Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

2.       Prepare the breading station:  1 dish of seasoned flour, 1 dish of beaten egg, 1 dish of seasoned breadcrumbs

3.       Cut chicken breast into bite sized chunks (the tenders make easy work of this because they come out of the package in strips)

4.       Now bread!  Roll the chunks in flour, shake off the excess, then roll in egg, shake off the excess, and finally roll in the bread crumbs.

5.       Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cooked through.  I always cut one open just to be sure.  Then let them cool and serve with a blob of ketchup for dipping!

And don’t be shy about seasoning your breading.  If you don’t introduce your little one to different flavors early on, they’ll be much less likely to try them later.  So a little salt and pepper are just fine, some grated parmesan cheese in the bread crumbs is yummy, or try something like cumin and other dried herbs and spices.

No love for chicken in your family?  Do the same thing with strips of fresh white fish (cod, halibut, tilapia, etc.).  And fish even cooks a tad faster!

Pair your homemade nuggets or strips with a side of sweet potato cubes roasted (or boiled) with a dash of cinnamon.  And if you can get away with a few green beans have at it!  Any questions…?  Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!

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One thought on “Spinach — Your Kid’s New Best Friend…?

  1. Wow, this was a really long post… I think I should have broken it up into chapters! Quick follow-up to my “Let’s Talk Nuggets” section. I made some fish nuggets for my little guy last night and used a quicker breading technique than the traditional flour/egg/bread crumb combo. I poured some bread crumbs in a dish and moistened them with a little bit of olive oil (or you could use butter). Once it was evenly distributed and not clumpy I rolled the nuggets in it and they cooked up perfectly with only 1/3 of the mess!

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