Recipes That Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy

Mealtime with kids usually goes down more like a staring contest than a fun family get-together. No matter how much you explain how healthy foods build strong bodies, getting your little ones to eat anything other than chicken fingers and pizza is a huge struggle. They’d sooner eat nothing than (gasp!) a green vegetable. We’re big believers in nutrition education here at The Cheat Sheet, but sometimes there just isn’t time for a full-fledged lesson on the benefits of broccoli. In these instances, a little trickery can work wonders. If you’re sick of the mealtime standoff, try these seven healthy recipes for kids. Your tots will never suspect these delicious eats are good for them.

1. Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Milkshake

Banana smoothie on wooden background

Chocolate and banana smoothie | iStock.com

Your little ones will think you’ve lost your mind in the best way possible when they find out they’re having milkshakes for breakfast. Only you have to know the chocolaty treat from Detoxinista is perfectly nutritious. Once blended, the frozen bananas create a creamy texture that’s nearly identical to ice cream. Though this recipe calls for almond milk, you can substitute regular if your little ones are dairy drinkers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 frozen bananas
  • ¾ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup natural peanut butter
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 7 ice cubes

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve at once.

2. Italian Salad on a Stick

greek salad on sticks

Greek salad on a stick | iStock.com

Most people don’t think salad when they’re trying to make healthy recipes for kids, and for good reason. Even most adults feel so-so about a pile of greens. This all changes when you turn the standard salad into a fun food on a stick. We like this recipe from Kraft because it’s just as fast as tossing a regular salad. And feel free to swap in any additional veggies you know your kids like. Carrots, celery, and bell peppers work really well.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package mozzarella cheese, cut lengthwise into quarters, each quarter cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, each half cut into 8 pieces
  • 16 grape tomatoes
  • 16 jumbo black olives, pitted and drained
  • 32 arugula leaves
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinaigrette

Directions: Thread cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and arugula on wooden skewers, dividing ingredients equally. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

3. Summer Vegetable Black Bean Chili

vegetarian chili topped with scallions and sour cream

Vegetarian chili | iStock.com

Even if you’ve incorporated more meatless meals into your week, it’s tough to have the same success with children. If there’s one dish that can make your little carnivores enjoy vegetable-based eating, it’s chili. This one from Some the Wiser is a real winner, brimming with peppers, corn, eggplant, zucchini, and black beans. The real genius of chili, though, is the toppings. If you let your kids customize their bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh herbs, and crushed tortilla chips, they’ll happily eat a full portion.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes and salted
  • 2 cups diced zucchini and summer squash
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded, and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups cooked black bans
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream, yogurt, or crème fraîche

Directions: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook eggplant and squash until lightly browned and beginning to soften, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove to a plate using a slotted spoon and repeat with additional oil and remaining eggplant and squash.

Add another drizzle of oil to same pot and cook onion, peppers, jalapeño, and garlic until softened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Stir in broth, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Stir in corn and beans. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes more. Add squash and eggplant, then let simmer for 10 minutes. Season with additional salt. Serve with desired toppings.

4. Parmesan Fish Sticks

Fish fingers from salmon

Crispy salmon fish sticks | iStock.com

Anything in finger form gets the green light from kids, so try the method with salmon. Giada De Laurentiis’s recipes shows how easy it can be with these cheese-crusted fish sticks, featured on Food Network. They get a crispy texture from a trip to the oven rather than the fryer, so these fish sticks are also a smart choice for parents.

While most people think about the importance of eating omega-3s later in life to boost heart health, your little ones can also benefit from the nutrient. One 2009 study found children with ADHD had better control over their symptoms when their diets were supplemented with omega-3s. While results are somewhat mixed, there’s also research to suggest these fats may help with dyslexia.

Ingredients:

Fish

  • 1 (18-ounce) center-cut skinless salmon fillet, about 9-by-4 inches
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil

Sauce

  • ⅓ cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • ⅓ cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chives

Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse salmon fillet, then pat dry with paper towels. Cut fish in half to make two even pieces, then slice into ½-inch pieces. All pieces should be about ½-by½-by-4½ inches in size.

Place flour in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place egg whites in another bowl and beat until frothy, about 30 seconds. Combine Parmesan and breadcrumbs in another bowl.

Coat salmon pieces first with flour, shaking to remove excess. Dip into egg whites, then Parmesan crumbs, pressing gently to adhere. Place breaded fish pieces on an oiled baking sheet, then drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine. Serve with fish sticks.

5. Healthy Baked Broccoli Tots

Broccoli boiling in a pot

Cooking broccoli in a pot of boiling water | iStock.com

If the closest your children get to eating vegetables is plate of French fries, it’s time to think tots. In a super clever twist, Gimme Delicious Food swapped potatoes for broccoli to turn tots into one of our favorite healthy recipes for kids. If your little ones ask why they’re green, just say you made monster tots.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen, thawed broccoli
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup diced yellow onion
  • ⅓ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ⅓ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease with nonstick cooking spray.

In a pot of boiling, salted water, cook broccoli until just barely tender, about 1 minute. Drain and shock with cold water. Finely chop broccoli, then transfer to a bowl. Add eggs, onion, cheese, both breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine with your hands, then form into 20 small cylinders. Transfer to prepared baking tray.

Bake tots until golden and crispy, about 18 to 24 minutes, rotating halfway through. Serve with your favorite sauce for dunking.

6. Healthy Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

mac and cheese with a breadcrumb topping

Macaroni and cheese with crispy breadcrumbs | iStock.com

Hiding veggies in mac and cheese is usually a great strategy for getting children to eat more produce, but really picky eaters will still manage to avoid every piece of greenery in the dish. Take your trickery up a notch with this butternut squash version from Daphne Oz of The Chew. You purée the squash right into the sauce, which gives it the same orange color and creamy texture as any boxed version. And because this dish calls for whole-wheat noodles, your little one will get even more great nutrition.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (1-inch cubes) peeled, seeded butternut squash
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 pound whole-what elbow macaroni
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the meantime, combine squash and milk in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce to low, cover, and cook until tender. about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add butter. Add shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add squash mixture, stock, and nutmeg. Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add cheese and stir to combine. Set aside.

Place a small skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Add panko and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden. Set aside.

Cook pasta in boiling water to 1 minute less than package instructions. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.

Add drained pasta to sauce along with parsley. Add pasta water to loosen, if needed. Serve topped with breadcrumbs, parsley, and additional cheese.

7. Minted Watermelon Popsicles

popsicles with watermelon

Watermelon popsicles | iStock.com

More and more parents are looking for all-fruit frozen desserts at the supermarket to help cut down on sugar. When you compare the cost of these packaged treats to fresh produce, making your own desserts suddenly becomes much more appealing. It’s also really easy. We like these watermelon pops from Food & Wine. There is a bit of added sugar, but it’s pretty negligible when you consider how much watermelon you’re using. This recipe works equally well with frozen berries, too.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ pounds (1-inch cubes) seedless watermelon without rind
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup mint leaves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt

Directions: Purée watermelon with sugar until smooth. Stir in mint, lemon zest, and salt. Pour into 8 popsicle molds or divide evenly among two ice cube trays. Transfer to freezer and freeze until hard, adding popsicle sticks halfway through, about 3 hours.

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