Holiday Meal Hacks to Make the Classics Kid-Friendly

Dec 19, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

It’s hard enough to find a hot second to plop into a seat during the holiday season — what with all those holiday to-do lists we have to check far more than twice. So when you're mid-holiday-meltdown and/or arguing politics with Grandma and a kid complains about their meal? Ain't nobody got time for that. One way to ward off the whining: Transform your traditional holiday recipes into kid-friendly versions.

"Aren't most holiday staples appropriate for kids?" you ask. Well, sure. But picky eaters might turn up their noses at the sight of a yam, Brussels sprout or even a (*gasp!*) squash-based pie — you know, one that’s not covered in sprinkles.

Mom and registered dietitian Diana K. Rice has witnessed firsthand the difficulty of enticing toddlers to eat what everyone else is eating. “Toddlers might just want to eat what they generally have at home; many of the dishes at the holiday meal are new to them," she explains. "My own daughter refused to eat sweet potato casserole simply because she’d never seen it before, although I’m sure she would have loved the flavor."

So what can parents and other cooks do when faced with a potential tantrum? "It’s important to offer the food, but not pressure the child to try it," Rice points out. Because chances are "pressure will actually make the child more averse to the food."

Here, some healthy, nonintimidating holiday meal makeovers and tweaks to try — so you can eat in (whole-grain) peace.

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Got roast beef? Make it bite-size

While you may be a master at slicing the ideal hunk of roast beef for adult-size silverware, a 5-year-old might not know where to begin with his or her serving. Rice explains that when you specifically chop the roast beef into bite-size nibbles, you have a better chance of getting kids on board and munching. “Beef is an excellent source of iron, which is an important nutrient for toddlers," Rice says. "It’s also good practice for self-feeding children to participate in the family meal and consume the same foods." One thing to keep in mind, though, is that "because their immune systems are still developing, children under age 5 should not consume rare meat,” Rice adds.

Got mashed potatoes? Add sour cream or yogurt

Sure, it might be easy to get a toddler chowing on mashed potatoes that are overloaded with butter and salt, but that doesn’t mean that's a healthy solution for their diet. As Rice explains, the trouble with fatty taters is that kids might be tempted to make that the entire meal, which isn’t a balanced solution for their growing bellies — or the rest of their bodies either. Also, because some children aren’t great with lactose, too much butter might wreak havoc on their digestive system. That’s why using sour cream or yogurt as a mix-in is smarter: “Fermented foods such as cheese, yogurt and sour cream are fine... the fermentation process removes most of the lactose,” Rice explains.

Got turkey? Offer a wing or a drumstick

As long as the kid is old enough to chew off of a bone, nutrition expert and professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob says swapping the white meat for a drumstick or wing might entice your curious kids. Not only are these parts easier — and more fun — to pick up, they make it more likely that a kid will finish their bites. “Kids like finger food, and you can skip the gravy and cranberry sauce that they might not like. [A wing or drumstick] is loaded with protein, relatively lean and healthy for them,” he explains. “They can take longer to eat since the meat doesn’t dry out...[and they can even] eat with their hands.” 

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Got yams? Make them into sweet potato fries

A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but a spoonful of sweet potato and melted marshmallows doesn't quite count as, you know, food. Luckily, you can bank on preserving the nutritional value of those sweet potatoes — which are packed with antioxidants — without added sugar or even much fat. How? Make oven fries, Ayoob says. “Cut them into steak fries, toss with a little olive oil and roast them. Because they’re easy to eat and naturally sweet, kids won’t even know they’re good for them."

Want fiber? Stick to hummus & raw veggies

While you might adore your grandmother’s classic Brussels sprouts or creamed pea and onions casserole, for kiddos who haven’t yet been introduced to these complex concoctions, the smell alone might be enough to send them screaming in the other direction. (And, ahem, poisoning their cousins' minds with their newfound anti-Brussels sprout agenda too.) That’s why Ayoob says to make the kids' table a fiber-filled cornucopia of hummus and raw vegetables — instead of coercing kids into downing a multilayered creation they’ll likely dislike. “Thankfully, hummus isn’t a strange food anymore because it’s on so many school lunch menus all over the country. Because it’s mostly garbanzo beans and sesame seeds, it essentially features veggies in every bite. Let them eat with their fingers so they stay in their comfort zone, and all will be well for the family dinner.”

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Got pie? Make it a parfait

Because they’re ripe with spices that aren’t familiar to kiddos (who may or may not stick to ketchup as their preferred flavor for everything), pies can be surprisingly contentious foods for tots. If you're trying to include kids in enjoying your dad's classic recipe for pumpkin, sweet potato, mincemeat or really any non-chocolate pie, you might find yourself faced with quite the opposition.

That’s why Ayoob says to make smaller kid-size parfaits that feature some of the same ingredients, but with a slower introduction. You can even make the parfait process interactive by allowing kids to add dried fruits, pecans, pomegranate arils, apple or pear chunks and honey on top. “Holiday ingredients are the perfect accompaniment for Greek yogurt," Ayoob explains, "because the high protein content of the yogurt will help make up for a kid who doesn’t eat much of that holiday meat. Plus, yogurt is always a great vehicle for fruit."

Kid-friendly versions of classic holiday meals
Image: Getty Images/Design:Ashley Britton/SheKnows

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