Meal Planning: Families with Tots and Particular Tastes

Sometimes it’s hard to get your kids to eat anything healthy. And it can feel overwhelming to to try plan and prepare meals that will meet everyone’s nutritional needs and also taste preferences.

This is my current and ongoing struggle {as mentioned in a recent previous post}. Add in fatigue and boredom and it can make dinner time down right challenging.

This week I decided to plan a menu completely catered to my child’s taste preferences, while sneaking in nutrients as much as i could. And you know what, it’s easier to cook for my kid than it is for me and my husband.

It’s less time consuming, easier to prepare, and perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or something you can really work on over the weekend and use through the week as needed.


soup + grilled cheese: start with a soup that has some veggies and/or protein in it (vegetable, tomato, black bean, even broccoli cheese). Cut the grilled cheese into fun finger-friendly shapes (can use cookie cutters) and let the child get whole grains from the bread, protein from reduced fat/2%/light cheese, and hopefully some extra nutrients with the veggies in the soup.

pizza: for shortcuts use mini whole wheat bagels topped with a homemade or jarred marinara topped with part skim mozarrella cheese, and again sneaking in veggies. The red sauce or marinara can count for your veggies, but if you can add artichokes, mushrooms, thinly sliced spinach, it’s all good efforts.

spaghetti: whole wheat pasta and marinara with meatballs or meatsauce. I prefer to make my own marinara because it’s an opportunity to add veggies that my daughter will not eat, even ones that my husband won’t eat. This week it was sliced mushrooms and zucchini, but I’ve also added carrots and you could add bell peppers, eggplant, etc

quesadillas: whole grain tortilla + reduce fat cheese + sneaking in veggies when can (think: pureed pumpkin, squash – even from the can – or shredded zucchini, in my case it was just a side of salsa, hoping she would dip it. Small steps, remember).

breakfast: whether it’s smoothies, pancakes, muffins, you can sneak veggies into all of these. Just have to be a little creative or experimental – or have reliable blog recipes – to play around with recipes that also have whole grains and low sugar.

pinwheels: whole grain tortilla wrapped around sliced veggies, protein, and a spread of something like cheese, hummus, guacamole. Slice it up and it’s like kid-friendly sushi.

crudite platters: assemble a mix of whole grain crackers, finger-friendly veggies, fruit slices, nuts, cheese, spreads like hummus, and some protein (think hard boiled eggs, chicken or tuna salad, guacamole). Switch our your types of fruits, veggies, crackers, protein etc. next time to keep everyone interested.

{For older kids who want and could benefit from more decision-making and involvement, I love taco bars, pizza bars, build-you-own burritos, etc to give them options of what they are adding in. As long as whole grains and veggies are made available, it’s a great opportunity for kids to pick what they want to try. If it’s nothing at the present moment, maybe next time they’ll be more adventurous.}


{yes, I know I’m missing a veggie in this photo- it was a quickly thrown together afternoon weekend snack platter}

Your goal is to offer a protein, a veggie, and a whole grain {fiber-rich} option at each meal. If fruit and milk or yogurt also ends up on the plate, that’s fine too, and can often count towards the fiber and protein needs, respectively.

I find it helps to also include a small amount of something you know they’ll love. While my daughter didn’t try the salsa or the edamame here, she did eat more of the chicken quesadilla than anticipated simply because she was reassured by the 100% whole grain sun chips also included. Again, baby steps.While she really only ate grains/fiber and protein in this meal, next time I prepare it I can try to add a veggie to the quesadilla  OR replace the sun chips with my homemade brussels or kale chips {it depends on the day if she’ll eat these}.


Just try to remember and reassure yourself no matter what your struggles are with nutrition, as with many things in life, it’s about progress over perfection. Yes, we want to offer the most healthy foods (whole grains, fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins/minerals), minimize added sugars, empty calories, and junk but we don’t want to foster a stressful and negative environment around food. Whether that’s for ourselves or for our children. Food is fun and comforting and that’s okay. We just also need to work towards it nourishing us as much as possible.

Happy meal planning!



Vanilla Yogurt Pancakes

The weekends are such a special time.

Time for yourself.

For your family.

For doing things you love with people you love.

So while you’re food choices are often more decadent and indulgent feeling, that doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy!


Pancakes have always been something special and I love making them on the weekends.

My pancakes are 100% whole grain, made with more protein from Greek yogurt, with less sugar thanks to my 30-second fruit syrup made with no sugar added preserves, water, and a touch of sweetener.

They are satisfying and filling! I even make enough to last through the week for breakfast which at that point I top with almond butter and more for the all fruit preserves! Weekend vibes all week long!


Vanilla Yogurt Whole Grain Pancakes with Homemade Fruit Syrup

Makes: 12-16 pancakes

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

dash of cinnamon

dash of nutmeg

1 banana, mashed

6 ounces Siggi’s Vanilla yogurt

1 cup Fairlife skim milk

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the syrup:

1 tablespoon all fruit spread or jam

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon syrup of choice


Preheat a non stick skillet to medium, medium-low heat.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg). In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients (banana through vanilla).

Pour the wet into the dry and gently combine.

Pour desired amount of pancake mixture into prepared skillet, also sprayed with nonstick spray.  When bubbles start to form (after a couple minutes), flip the pancakes and cook on the remaining side for about half the time.

Serve warm with the syrup that has been combined in a glass jar and warmed in the microwave (about 30 seconds).


The vanilla Siggi’s Skyr yogurt gives these not only extra protein (in addition to the Fairlife milk) but it also adds a touch of sweetness and fluff  to the pancakes.

Don’t be afraid of using whole wheat flour here, the pastry flour gives these a lightweight and soft texture. All the ingredients combined really help switch this (the yogurt, milk, banana) but you don’t have to worry that these will be hard and dense that can happen when using 100% whole grain products in place of traditionally-used enriched or refined flours.

If you need a gluten free version, you can substitute gluten free oat flour cup for cup in this recipe.


Enjoy this recipe and the printable recipe card: Vanilla Yogurt Pancakes!



Caesar Dressing


One of the first things I learned about my mother in law is that she is a great cook! And one of the first recipes I ever associate with her & that she then shared with me is her caesar dressing. I’ve twisted it ever so slightly over the years but it has always been a staple in our house. We even served it at our rehearsal dinner, we love it so much!

I’m sure you’ll love it too and there’ll be no need to search for a good store-bought brand when you can make your own at home!


This is an egg-less caesar salad making it great for anyone avoiding uncooked eggs, like pregnant or nursing moms!

Caesar Dressing


1/4 cup red wine vinegar

~ 6 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 tube of anchovie paste

freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, juiced

1/2 cup olive oil


Combine all ingredients in a cruet or mason jar. Shake to combine well.


Super easy but so delicious and flavorful!

My MIL crushes her garlic in a garlic press, but I finely mince mine. You choose what may be best for you and your family’s preferences.

Her original recipe stated to use “a lot of garlic” well I didn’t know just how much that was until I actually had to watch her make it one day while visiting because until then, mine just didn’t taste the same. My version of  a lot of garlic was 3-4 cloves, but no, she uses like 9-10? I may be exaggerating now though. I’ve lost track over the years. I may have toned it down or 6-7 may be the realistic amount. Either way, did i say it was deliciously amazing?


Pair it with a salad for pizza night, steaks, burgers, or make an easy grilled chicken caesar salad! Printable recipe for your recipe collection: caesar dressing.




Strawberry Spinach Smoothie Pops

It might be a mouthful to say but these smoothie popsicles are a great way to get a bunch of the nutrients your child may be missing in a fun a treat-like food!


I fed this to my daughter on our hot afternoon walk – and while it was messy- I was a happy Momma! I didn’t even care that her dinner was hit or miss because at least she ate some veggies – and enjoyed it!

I will admit, this is like the 4th or 5th attempt in giving these to her because she has resisted them in other attempts. At first she wanted them, but became quickly uninterested.

Then she wanted to try them, but said she didn’t like them… I was questioning this one knowing what other foods and flavors she does like.

Then she’d eat them again, only a few bites. Until finally she finished a whole one!


I know how frustrating and tiring it can be to continuously offer kids healthy items even when you are pretty certain they’ll turn them down or say they do not like them.

Persistence is key my friends!

I often times feel successful at dinner- not even if she doesn’t eat her veggies- but as long as she was offered them and we all ate dinner together.

It can be hard enough to get our dinner together, while still considering likes as well without making 2 completely separate meals (because in all honesty, we shouldn’t be doing that)! But there are those nights when I can just eat cereal for dinner- and often do- and she does too! So while I’m glad she ate, I’m not thrilled with the fact it wasn’t a well-rounded meal.


But I try to remind myself- and hopefully this brings you comfort- that you don’t have to be perfect. Kids are great at knowing what and how much they want. While we need to continue to offer and expose them to new and nutrient-rich foods, we also have to balance so many things in our day, so keeping it as easy and stress free as possible is so important, even nutritiously.

So Mommas, for those nights everyone eats pizza for dinner sans veggie or salad or the night you just throw fries and chicken nuggets into the oven, give yourself a break! Rest, refresh, and regroup for later. It’s just one day. There’s always tomorrow. The trick is to not let it become a habit!


Strawberry Spinach Smoothie Pops

6 ounces plain Greek yogurt

splash of vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened fruit

1/4 to 1/2  cup Fairlife skim milk

1/2 cup coconut water

1 tablespoon nut butter

2 tablespoons flax seed

1 cup fresh spinach



Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth & combined. Pour into popsicle molds or paper cups. Freeze for about 10-15 minutes (insert popsicle sticks at this point if haven’t already done so). Continue freezing until firm and cold.

Enjoy as a snack or light meal!

Our milk go-to these days is Fairlife milk. I love that it has half the amount of sugar and carbs, but even more protein that traditional milk all because it goes through an extra filtration process (just like strained or “Greek”- style yogurt).

Speaking of Greek yogurt – I use Fage 2% or Siggi’s plain here – again for the lower sugar, higher protein content. Vanilla extract helps to add richness  & flavor without sugar. My daughter can eat plain Greek yogurt happily, but if your child is not this way, maybe start with a flavored Siggi’s yogurt.  I chose strawberries because -for once she’s not my child in this instance as she doesn’t like fresh fruits in general let along berries-  I’m incorporating what nutrients and flavor profiles she’s missing in her normal diet. And spinach, let’s face it, she doesn’t eat hardly any veggies, so this is the most neutral flavor, but nutrient rich option to add into a smoothie!





And for an easy printable recipe, don’t forget to click here: Smoothiepops.

Feel Good Cookies


When I was pregnant with LEM I would often grab these “perfect cookies” at work as they were:

  1. Free!!!
  2. delicious
  3. relatively healthy
  4. convenient to grab while at work, and one less thing to pack for the day
  5. satisfied my sweet tooth while providing key nutrients to keep me full and energized

They were made up of nothing but whole grains, plant based fats, and a mix of sugar and plant-based sweeteners.

Well, these cookies are no longer available and while I’ve tried to make them at home a few times, they never quite turn out the same.


This time was different however! I changed a few things about the recipe and also to entice LEM to eat some – since she’s totally into this chocolate phase- but to rid my constant worries of added sugars, I used nothing but dates to sweeten these, along with a few dark chocolate chips!

These cookies are great for moms or kids! I bet dad’s will even like them too! They’re great for a healthier, but indulgent-feeling snack or pack them as a guilt-free treat in their lunch box.


Feel Good Cookies

Makes: 4 dozen


1 cup pitted dates

1 cup hot water

3/4 cup coconut oil, melted

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup ground flax seed

2/3 cup (or 2 scoops) low sugar protein powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups old fashioned oats, divided

1/2 cup dark or bittersweet chocolate chips {optional}


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray cookie sheets with non-stick spray.

In a blender, add the pitted dates and warm water. Pulse to combine and break up the dates into almost a syrup consistency.  Add the coconut oil to the date syrup. Pulse to incorporate. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla extract, pulse again.

In a small bowl, add the whole wheat flour, flax seeds, protein powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and 2 cups of the oats. Mix together and pour into the blender pitcher. Pulse well to incorporate everything together.

Pour the batter into the bowl used to prepare the dry ingredients. Add the remaining 1 cup of oats and chocolate chips. Stir with a spatula to combine.

Using a small cookie scoop, portion out the batter onto the baking sheets (they won’t spread out very much). Use the back of a nonstick spatula to slightly flatten out the tops – otherwise they will be rounded mounds or cookies rather than more even-top-flatter cookies.

Bake each batch for 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for about 1 minute then remove to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Nutrition facts (per cookie): 80 calories, 5 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 35 milligram sodium, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 2 grams protein – not including chocolate chips if using


Note: To make these gluten free, use gluten free oats and swap out the whole wheat pastry flour for another cup of oats. And for a convenient printable recipe, click Feel Good Cookies- printable.

For a dessert, I’d recommend keeping the serving size to just 1, but if this is a snack, you could increase the servings to 2 cookies! That’s right, eat more! They’re better for you and you’ll want the extra sustenance from the fiber, protein, and fats.

Don’t you love it when a dietitian says to eat MORE of something!?!







Kale & Cilantro Slaw

I recently shared one of my favorite recipes {slow cooker pulled pork} so it’s only right that I share the best accompaniment that goes with this dish.


This kale and cilantro slaw is perfect nutritionally-

dark leafy greens, check!

extra protein and probiotics from the Greek yogurt dressing, check!

Cool and tangy to offset the spicy and warm pork, check!

Pretty colors to “eat with your eyes”, check!

It’s also fast, easy, and while it gets better with time as it sits, it tastes great right away so no need to make ahead if you don’t have the time!


Kale and Cilantro Slaw

Serves: 4-6


1/2 head of purple cabbage, julienne

4 stalks kale, julienne

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

juice of 1 lime

pinch of kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon honey

freshly ground black pepper


In a large bowl, add the cabbage, kale, cilantro, lime juice, salt, & pepper.

Prepare the dressing by combining the yogurt, vinegar, garlic powder, honey, and black pepper. Whisk together with a fork.

Pour the dressing over the veggie mixture. Toss well to combine.


For a printer-friendly recipe, click here.





Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Tacos

It’s the middle of summer and that often entails no one wanting to cook in attempts to keep cool and not add more heat to the house by turning on the oven.


This month’s recipe redux theme uses some form of cooking rather than the oven: slow cooking, pressure cooking, insta pots, etc!

My bff in this situation is the slow cooker because it means low and slow cooking that produces flavorful and tender meals that are comforting and satisfying, even in the sultry summer!


This recipe is almost a 2-ingredient meal. If you have the salsa mixture already on hand in your fridge then you can just plop some in the pot with the chicken and be done. If you don’t have a fresh jar of homemade salsa, not to worry, everything gets blended briefly and poured in so it’s still little prep work- something that can be done pretty thoughtlessly at night after a long day, or in the early am before you head out the door.

I do love this salsa- on a side note! It’s so fresh and flavorful with a little kick of heat and extra flavor from the chipotle peppers! It’s great to make up ahead of time and use for various other recipes!

IMG_5926Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Tacos

Serves: 4-6


1 ten ounce can Rotel with Lime & Cilantro

handful of grape tomatoes

2-3 chipotle peppers packed in adobo sauce

1/4 red onion, diced

4 cloves garlic

1/2 bunch cilantro

1 lime, juiced

 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

HOLA NOLA corn tortillas

{For the fixin’s: avocado, cilantro, plain Greek Yogurt, shredded romaine or lettuce of choice}


In a blender or food processor, blend all the ingredients together- except the chicken, tortillas, and fixin’s (Rotel through the lime). Blend until well combined.

Pour the salsa into the bottom of the slow cooker pot. Place the chicken breast on top. Set on low for 6-8 hours.

Shred with two forks and serve on whole grain tortillas with desired fixin’s.


As with many of my recipes,  you can adjust the amounts of ingredients to suite your taste and what’s available in your house. If you have half an onion to use and won’t likely use it later in the week for another recipe, by all means, throw it all in the blender for the salsa. If you only have 3 cloves of garlic, no big deal! Use what you have and don’t stress!



Stay cool and enjoy!