Feeding children can be one of the most satisfying but also one of the most stressful parts of parenting – and it's not uncommon to get embroiled in a fearsome stand-off at mealtimes. So, to avoid the meltdowns, we've cooked up some sneaky ideas for giving kids (age four and up) the foods they love, packed full of the nutrients they need, from breakfast to dessert, with help from our nutritionist Kerry Torrens. Adjust portion sizes according to your child's needs.
Make the best of breakfast
It goes without saying, but setting your child up for the day with a healthy breakfast will make you both feel good. Something satisfying, with slow-release energy, should keep kids full until lunch and help sustain their concentration and mood. Try serving porridge with a side portion of blueberries or raspberries for an extra boost of vitamins and minerals. Plus, they'll have plenty of fun stirring in the colours.
Some children are less keen to eat first thing. If that’s the case, tempt them with an egg and soldiers for dipping, or whizz up a yogurt-based smoothie for a satisfying combination of protein, carbs and valuable hydration. Smoothies are best enjoyed with other foods, but can be a useful option if appetite is low. Limit smoothies and juices to one 150ml glass a day.
Remember, the fat in whole dairy foods provide valuable calories, vitamins and minerals for younger children. However, if your child is older, you can opt for a lower fat option.
- Dippy eggs with Marmite soldiers
- Avocado & strawberry smoothie
- Cinnamon, apple & raisin porridge
- Peanut butter & banana on toast
- Berry Bircher
- Melon & crunchy bran pots
- Berry yogurt pots
Pasta provides a good source of energy and makes a great base for sneaking in all sorts of ingredients that may not normally be on your little one's list of favourites, such as tofu or spinach. You can also cram in all of their five-a-day with our clever pasta sauce recipes.
- Meatballs with hidden veg sauce
- 5-a-day Bolognese
- Layered rainbow salad pots
- Tofu & spinach cannelloni
- Creamy ham, leek & mushroom spaghetti
- Pesto chicken kebabs with roasted veg pasta
There's always a temptation to feed the kids plenty of vegetables and homemade fare, then munch on some toast when they're tucked up in bed. After all, who isn't shattered once the day's work is done? That's why these family meals are designed to suit everyone from toddlers to teens, so you won't have to set about making different meals (or be faced with an excess of washing up).
All these meals are freezable, too. Make a couple in advance, or double up your portions, and you won't have to reach for a naughty ready meal in times of crisis.
- Easy beef stew with sweet potato topping
- Easy lamb tagine
- Chicken & vegetable casserole
- Easy fish cakes
Fish for thought
It’s worth remembering that we should probably all be eating more fish – ideally two or more portions a week, with one being the oily variety (such as salmon, trout or sardines). Oily fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is important for our brain, nervous system and heart and which may help control conditions like eczema. These recipes are great for filling little ones with healthy fresh fish and, even if your child isn't one of those who loves nothing more than mackerel, they'll still feel like they're tucking into something special. They're sure to enjoy speedy homemade fish fingers or salmon and ginger fish cakes – and you can even throw in some crunchy sweet potato chips to top up their five-a-day.
- Salmon & spaghetti parcel
- Easy fish pie
- Salmon & ginger fishcakes
- Fish fingers & mushy peas
- Prawn & cod cakes
- Classic chunky fish cakes
Freshly made soups make a great freezer staple for quick lunchtime meals. Try serving some of the classics with toast soldiers or vegetable crudités, and let your child sprinkle on yogurt and seeds to keep them digging in.
This lentil soup is packed with pulses and sweetened with grated apple and sweet potato. Simply adjust the curry powder depending on your child's tastes.
A creamy yet silky tomato soup has to be the ultimate comfort food after a long day at school.
This freezable, green soup is perfect for sneaking in an abundance of courgettes – and the cheesy topping is often a winner with kids.
Curry in a hurry
Experimenting with different flavours is a brilliant part of developing your child's tastes. These healthy, mild dishes make a great starting point for introducing them to spicier food.
- Child-friendly Thai chicken noodles
- Thai salmon noodles
- Easy butter chicken
- Mumbai potato wraps with minted yogurt relish
- Creamy veggie korma
- Sweet potato & chicken curry
Getting something on the plate quickly is often a priority with kids of any age – but fast food doesn't have to mean food that's high in fat, salt and sugar. Simple ingredients like eggs, pulses and beans can quickly be transformed into a delicious and nutritious supper.
An omelette can make great finger food for younger children if you cut it into strips. And, of course, it can be whipped up in no time, using whatever fillings you have to hand in the fridge. Check out our ideas below for inspiration.
- Easy cheesy frittata
- Toddler recipe: Mini egg & veg muffins
- Ricotta, tomato & spinach frittata
- Spinach & courgette frittata
- Potato & paprika tortilla
It should be easy to get the kids to the table for a burger. Try out some of these healthy recipes that feel like a cheeky takeaway, but are actually packed with nutrients.
Whipping up homemade pizza bases is much simpler than you think. Let the kids decorate their own using healthy toppings that also count towards their five-a-day – it'll make mealtime more fun and the end products are bound to be a hit with the whole family. Pizza-inspired dishes are always popular, so stir up a little interest with a pizza omelette or a pizza-topped baked potato...
- BBQ chicken pizza
- Caramelised onion & goat's cheese pizza
- Cajun prawn pizza
- Super-healthy pizza
- Pizza omelette
- Pizza baked potatoes
Do the kids get peckish between meals? Try whipping up healthy, speedy snacks to keep them going.
Treats & desserts
If you want to give the kids something a bit special for dessert, but don't want it to be packed full of sugar, then these fruit-packed puds might be just the thing. Remember, though, that we should all be minimising our intake of free sugars. Free sugars include those added to food or drinks and those found naturally in honey, syrups, unsweetened juices, smoothies and purées.
This article was last reviewed on 1 March 2019 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.
A registered nutritional therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications, including BBC Good Food. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) and British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT).
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What's your go-to healthy family meal? Let us know in the comments below...