5 Easy (and Healthy) Dinners for Fussy Kids

She has to eat, right?
She has to eat, right?
liquidlibrary/Thinkstock

By now, you know the drill. You prepared what you thought was a great dinner -- almost inspired. All the food groups are represented (miracle of miracles). Nothing is too spicy, too colorful, too dense or too unusual. Encouraged, you load a plate with nothing touching. It has a nice portion of white stuff like mashed potatoes or rice, a base (you hope) that will make that tiny bit of spinach (or broccoli, or carrots or squash) go down more easily. Do you get an award as the best mom ever? Heck, no. You'd think for all the head shaking, squirming and outright hollering that you were trying to perform surgery at the dinner table without anesthetic. All you want to do is finesse enough vitamins and minerals into your kid to ensure that he doesn't contract scurvy, or something equally appalling. And you thought breast feeding was a pain.

There is a way to combine peace and mealtime in the same sentence successfully, even when you're trying to provide healthy nourishment for fussy eaters. Let's throw your spouse in there, too. He's probably not much better than your kids when it comes to eating healthy. On the next pages, we'll look at five simple and healthy dinners you can prepare for a persnickety brood. Fair warning, these tips are sneaky -- but when it comes to mealtime, it's war.

5

Meatloaf on a Bun

Yeah, yeah, we know. Meatloaf is the scourge of the dinner table. It's hard to understand how burgers (which use lots of the same ingredients) can be so popular, while the lowly meatloaf is shunned. Actually, meatloaf can be a nice stand in for a burger if you're careful. It's all about perspective. Just keep the ingredients simple. This means you should leave the horseradish and diced mushrooms for another time. Once you've slapped a basic meatloaf slice on a nice bun and added the condiments, it'll have enough burger flair to pass muster -- especially if there's a little cheese on there as camouflage.

Here's our secret weapon: Use ground turkey instead of beef. To make this work, reduce the meat volume in the recipe by around 15 percent and add a texturizer like bread crumbs that you've soaked in milk for a few minutes. Your meatloaf will be lower in fat and higher in protein than if you'd used beef. Unlike burgers, you can easily make enough meatloaf in one go for multiple meals. In a pinch, you can even cut-up meatloaf slices and add them to marinara sauce for no fuss meatballs.

Meatloaf is versatile, and once you find a recipe that works for your family, it makes for a reliable, quick, low-cost meal that'll be a useful addition to your repertoire. After a while, you can even start adding über good-for-you ingredients like oatmeal, tofu or lentils, completely concealing them in the mix. The recipes below will work as-is or can be modified pretty easily.

4

Quesadillas and Soup

What's not to love about yummy quesadillas?
What's not to love about yummy quesadillas?
Hemera/Thinkstock

Flour tortillas filled with vegetables, meat or cheese and heated in a skillet are lifesavers. Kids are pretty accepting of flour tortillas as an alternative to sliced bread, and this sandwich variation can be prepared in 20 minutes or less. Quesadillas are also filling and customizable. Even better, tortillas, cheese and some of the other basic fixings will last a long time in your fridge, so quesadillas can be your go-to option when all else fails. We like the idea that there are low-fat alternatives for most of the popular quesadilla fixings, and if you aren't just using cheese as a filling, you can add any ingredients you know your kids will accept, like a little tomato, some black beans or a bit of shredded lettuce. When served with a simple soup, this is a nice combo for fussy eaters.

Of course, we love the idea of making soup from scratch -- hey, it isn't so hard to do. All it takes is 10 minutes prep time in the morning, and you'll have hearty homemade soup by dinnertime in your slow cooker. There are also prepackaged mixes that let you add the simple stuff like meat and fresh vegetables. However you plan the prep, kids love chicken noodle soup, and it's a good jumping off point for more challenging variations like chicken vegetable soup or minestrone. Soup and a hot sandwich, now what could be more wholesome?

3

Spaghetti

We like to think of spaghetti as kid-proof camouflage. You can hide a lot of nutritious ingredients in a red sauce, and your exacting babies will never know the difference. Antioxidants, minerals, protein and vitamins by the score are all at your disposal if you're super sneaky. The trick is to hide some of the foods you know your kids need in the sauce in a way that will be undetectable. Grind ingredients small, and use small portions of the types of foods kids often find bitter, like spinach and broccoli. Oh, and to make sure you're packing in as much fiber and goodness as possible, use whole wheat pasta.

2

Kabobs

The best thing about kabobs is you can customize them for each child.
The best thing about kabobs is you can customize them for each child.
Goodshoot/Thinkstock

We should label this one: If you put it on a stick, they will come. There's something tantalizing about eating finger food. It makes kids curious and more likely to take a nibble or two when otherwise the ingredients would be a turn off. Kabobs are also as mom friendly as they are kid friendly. You don't even have to fire up the grill to prepare them unless you want to. Our pineapple turkey kabobs are cooked in the oven, and nothing could be easier. You can devise variations using meatballs, chicken and even turkey hotdogs. Just soak the skewers and load them up with your kids' nutritious favorites (if they've got any) and you'll have a meal that's a sure winner -- and who couldn't use one of those every once in a while

1

Mac' and Cheese

You know this one had to make the list -- but we've added a twist. Macaroni and cheese doesn't have to be a gloppy, cheesy bowl of fat and empty calories. If you use whole wheat pasta and reduced fat cheese, you can still create a creamy comfort food that's amped up with nutrients. Your kids won't balk, and you won't feel like you've lost the nutritional battle in favor of one hassle free menu item. You can do even more with that skillet or baked cheese dish by adding some vegetables and maybe a can of tuna every once in a while. When you're dealing with a classic like macaroni and cheese, though, this can be tough. It's hard to hide peas in cheese.

If your children are still pretty young, you might be able to convince them that mac and cheese always has a little broccoli in it. No, no, this isn't as crazy as it sounds. Cheese has a mild but pervasive flavor, and a few vegetables buried inside may not cause an outright revolt at the table. It's worth a try. We have a few interesting options below. They're homemade, which puts them head and shoulders over the packaged stuff, and they can be dressed up or down depending on what works for you.

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