Diversity in The Good Old Pasta Dinner
Capitalizing on this family favourite to add delicious variety while keeping comfort and ease.
My husband and I run a crazy household of four hungry kids, aged six and under. We have three rambunctious boys and a dancing ballerina.
We are not going to lie when we say that some weeks look like pasta night for 4/7 dinners. We are regular folk with regular family schedules and regular family dinnertime chaos. And so, pasta night just seems to make dinners easier. Why is that?
- We can cook pasta dinners in under 20 minutes.
- We can cook them with no recipe and with what we have on hand.
- We can count on the kids eating it without much fuss.
- We can fuel all kids well after a day of lots of activity.
- We can count on leftovers for school lunches that get eaten.
Oh, and our all time favourite reason:
- We can feed the kids quickly and (relatively) smoothly, so we can enjoy an in-house date night with exotic take-out and to-die for wine!
While pasta dinners can be easy and very family friendly, any parent wants to add variety to the dinner table and also help build resilience in children’s palates. Here are a few tips and ideas on how to make simple pasta meals balanced and different!
1. Change the pasta
- Add fiber with whole wheat pasta or “smart” pasta. Smart pasta has added fiber without the change of texture and taste of whole wheat; it can be more palatable for kids.
- Tired of wheat? Try corn, rice and other grain pastas for a pleasant change.
- Go pasta-less and instead use quinoa, wild rice, barley or rye berries. The result can be more of a risotto style dinner, while getting the benefits of these whole grain varieties.
- Lentils and bean pastas are becoming popular. You can try these for pasta meals where a buttered sourdough or garlic cheese bread are a must.
2. Pack the protein
- Since you know picky eaters will eat the typical pasta dish, this is a good opportunity to place different types of side proteins for them to try. Make a bean salad with balsamic dressing or a roasted rosemary chicken breast. The point here is to make them try something new.
- Use leftover proteins with pasta meals. Kids may cringe at the thought of you serving that lousy protein they struggled to enjoy last night, but when coupled with their favourite pasta that protein may in fact be eaten without fuss.
- Disguise a protein by chopping it finely into the pasta sauce and topping it with melted cheese; this way skipping the “eat your meat please battle”.
- Serve a glass of milk (or milk alternative high in protein) with the pasta dish or make a greek yoghurt and fruit parfait for dessert to pack the protein. Sprinkle pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds or pecans, hemp hearts or chia for bonus points!
3. Bulk the veggies
- Keep it simple and make a veggie platter with dip. You can make that before the pasta is ready so they get those veggies in. Add some fruit into the platter mix to lure those kids with less of a veggie appetite.
- Add a salad! Since you know they love their pasta, put more effort into the salad, add new things for them to try and explore, make a different dressing.
- When you have more time at hand, try an elaborate veggie side, like cauliflower steaks. This can expose kids to fun variety while leaning in the comfort of the pasta they love.
Like in anything with family nutrition, it is a trial and error approach and then try some more! Some things won’t work, but don’t get discouraged. Remember little ones are temperamental when it comes to eating. The first time they see something different they won’t have it, and the next few times, it’s like they have had it all along. Adding variety in family meals with wee ones is a real art where the focus is on long term results. So, keep your eye on the big picture: exposing your kiddos to diverse foods and adding adventure to their typical meals will build resilience to their relationship with food.
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Daniela O’Brien is known for her contagious smile, warm approachability and collaborative approach to nutrition counselling for individuals and families. Her non-judgemental, calm demeaner mixed with confidence and clear direction is especially helpful when families are struggling with meal planning challenges, picky eating, health issues and complex eating disorders. Daniela specializes in Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Weight Concerns, Pre/Post-natal, Infant/Kids/Family Nutrition and offers services in both English and Spanish.