What do nutrient experts cook at home for their brood? Sure, there are numerous fruits, veggies, and whole grains in their kitchens, but you’ll also find pasta dishes and sweet treats. Registered dietitians from all over the country share some of their favorite strategies, tips, and recipes for feeding kids.
Pro Tip: Don’t Cater
Registered dietitians may prioritize healthy eating, but that doesn’t mean they have endless amounts of time to shop and cook nutritious meals. To suit the needs of picky eaters and unforgiving schedules, healthy choices need to be accessible and fast. Many experts rely on sketching out meal plans and utilizing big batch cooking and freezer storage to keep healthy and nutritious options flowing.
There’s one thing all nutrition experts strongly believe in when it comes to serving meals—everyone eats the same thing. There’s no short order cooking or catering to the whims of a whiny child. Dietitians know that giving into picky eating demands stacks the deck against them. Taking a hard line on the “this is for dinner, take it or leave it” front will help kids grow to be more adventurous and well-rounded eaters.
There really are opportunities to offer healthy fare to children at every meal. Here are some stellar examples.
Experts agree that breakfast is a must! The early morning time crunch can put the pressure on, so opt for easy.
Fruity Baked Oatmeal
Recipe by Adina Pearson, RD
This dish is easy to make ahead and enjoy in the morning.
- 6 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 heaping teaspoon salt
- 2 cups milk
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Enough of your favorite fruit, chopped, to cover the bottom of the pan
Preheat oven to 350F (175C). In a large bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Beat in milk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir in dried cranberries and walnuts. Spread fruit/frozen/canned fruit into a 9×13 inch baking dish, enough to cover the bottom. Cover fruit with oat mixture and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.
Banana Oat Blender Muffins
Recipe by Diana Rice, RD
These are a great snack for kids and adults! They’re super quick to make and contain no added sugar, plus they’re a great way to use up leftover bananas.
- 3 large bananas
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 2/3 cup almond meal
- 2/3 cup milk of choice (I used whole cow’s milk)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400F. Grease muffin or mini muffin pans, set aside. Place all ingredients into a high speed blender or food processor. Blend until just combined (it’s fine for the oats and coconut to remain a little bit flaky).
Pour batter into muffin or mini muffin pans. Bake for 20 minutes (the bake time is the same for both pan sizes). Transfer baked muffins from pans onto wire rack as soon as they are cool enough to handle.
Lunch and Dinner Recipes
Registered dietitian Jill Castle recommends truly emulating family style meals.—everyone should eat the same foods. She uses a variety of creative ways to serve them though—family-style with all food placed in the center and everyone serves themselves, or deconstructed and served ‘Dinner Bar’ style.
Give these recipes a go.
Lentil Chickpea Vegetable Salad With Feta
Recipe by Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN
For the Salad
- 1½ cups cooked lentils (like Trader Joe’s steamed, ready-to-eat lentils)
- 1 cup drained and rinsed no-salt-added canned chickpeas
- ½ cup diced bell peppers
- ½ cup diced Persian or English cucumbers (I keep skin on, but peel if desired)
- ½ cup feta cheese
- ¼ cup pomegranate seeds (sub other fruit of choice at other seasons)
- Arugula or mixed greens (optional)
For the Dressing
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
- 1½ teaspoons maple syrup
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a large bowl, combine lentils, chickpeas, peppers, cucumbers, feta, and pomegranate seeds. In a small bowl or mason jar, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, syrup, salt, and pepper, to taste. Pour dressing over lentil chickpea vegetable salad and toss to combine. Serve over a bed of arugula or mixed greens if desired.
10-Minute One-Pan Lemon Chicken
Recipe by Natalia Stasenko, MS, RD, LDN
- 1 pound chicken breast ( 3 small or 2 big fillets)
- salt, pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 lemon, sliced into rounds
Slice the chicken breasts into two to four slices lengthwise. Pound them slightly to achieve equal thickness throughout the filet. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the fillets with flour on both sides and shake off excess. Melt the butter in a pan. Fry the chicken breasts until they are slightly browned and cooked through, for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Remove the chicken on a plate and cover with foil. Saute the lemon slices on the pan, pressing with a spatula slightly to release the juices. Add the chicken to the pan, mix with the lemons and heat for a few minutes.
It’s alright for kids to snack between meals, but avoid filling them up with junk. It’s also important to make foods that are age appropriate like hand held snacks. has created Carrot Cake Energy Bites for her toddler. “Perfect for her to grab with her tiny hands and is a good balance of protein and fiber.”
Carrot Cake Energy Bites
Recipe by Nazima Qureshi, MPH, RD, CPT
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup carrots, finely grated
- 1/4 cup hemp seed
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/8 tsp ginger powder + 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (used to cover energy bites)
In a food processor, add all the ingredients except for the shredded coconut. Blend until ingredients are well blended together and a ball forms. Using damp hands, create 1-inch balls and immediately roll in shredded coconut. (Note: if mixture is difficult to work with, refrigerate for 15-20 minutes).
Refrigerate energy bites for at least 1 hour before serving. Store in refrigerator for up to a week in an airtight container.
Even nutrition experts have a sweet tooth. They recognize that sugar doesn’t need to be completely off limits and emphasize balance in their family’s diets. Amanda Bratton, RD, for example, says she usually packs her girls’ lunch and the eat pistachios, cheese, apples, and 1 or 2 Hershey kisses. She tries to limit junk foods but they enjoy ice cream a few days a week. Sarah Pflugradt, RDN, emphasizes that it’s important to teach balance early on and let kids appreciate all food by allowing them to eat their favorite (maybe not so healthy) foods every once in a while.
Fruity Frozen Yogurt Bites
Recipe by Emily Kyle, MS, RDN
- 1 very ripe banana
- 5 strawberries
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Optional Toppings: 1 teaspoon Goji berries, 1 teaspoon raw cacao nibs, ½ teaspoon unsweetened coconut flakes
In a blender, blend together all ingredients. Pour into a baking mold. Top with desired toppings. Freeze for at least 1 hour.
Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter “Ice Cream”
Recipe by Sarah Hilgert Pflugradt, RDN
- 4 medium bananas
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup peanut butter
- Optional Toppings: Crushed Peanuts, Carob Chips, Mini Chocolate Chips
Peel bananas and cut into chunks. Place in bowl and freeze until hard (a couple of hours to overnight)
Place frozen bananas in food processor with cocoa powder and blend. Scrape down the sides to incorporate all of the banana. Blend until almost together and add the peanut butter. Blend once more just until combined. Portion out to 4 bowls and top with optional toppings.