Not Only Macaroni

Simple, healthy meals that will please even the pickiest of eaters.


Looking for your chance to trade in hot dogs and macaroni for pesto pasta with chicken and broccoli and still please your picky eater’s palate? 
     “Experiment in small doses” advises Karl Benson, owner of Cooks of Crocus Hill. If mac and cheese is the family staple, Benson says, start by making it with real cheese. Then move toward adding broccoli. When that becomes the norm, add a little ham, a little bacon and a little a tomato. Over time, Benson—a father of five—says the boxed processed food becomes a scratch-made meal of meat and vegetables.
Getting young eaters to try something new takes patience, repetition and a little creativity. Benson’s secret tool: roll-ups. They are a great way to make any meal fun, he says. Benson grabs leftovers from the fridge—be it a chicken or a pot roast, and adds some veggies, herbs, fruit and cheese, and rolls it all in a tortilla. “It’s sweet, salty and savory,” he says.
     Frozen thin-crust whole-wheat pizza is another time-saver and something kids are familiar with. Throw on some leftover pork chop, shredded chicken and chopped veggies, and it becomes a healthy meal, Benson says.
Not only do nutrition and culinary experts agree that additions must be made slowly, they say being a role-model eater is an absolute must.
     Patty Larson, owner of Young Chefs Academy in Edina, says parents need to not only eat their fruits and vegetables at every meal but branch out from their favorites so the whole family can try new things.
     The key to success, Larson says, is to stick to eating healthy and refusing to make a second meal for a picky eater. If a parent offers choices from the complete food pyramid including a fruit, vegetable and protein, there will always be something on the table children will eat, she says.
     “Continue to offer the foods, don’t force it on them and don’t make it a power struggle,” Larson says. On average, children will have to taste a new food 10 times before they like it, according to the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital Fairview.
     Another way to gauge a child’s interest is to request their help. Recent U of M Fairview studies show kids are more likely to try something they have prepared. And, Larson says, they can start in the kitchen as young as 2, helping with measuring and chopping with a plastic pizza cutter. Additionally, they can rifle through cookbooks choosing meals that appeal to them. Larson also touts the produce section of the grocery store as another interactive opportunity, suggesting parents let their kids choose one new fruit or vegetable to try each time they go to the store.
For Julie Cologne, an Edina resident and mother of four kids ages 8 to 18, preparation is key to maintaining a healthy, happy family. Larson attributes much of the inspiration in her business to the way Cologne runs her home kitchen. But Cologne would be quick to say she doesn’t do anything special, but her in-depth planning had her second child requesting artichokes, steamed clams and blueberries in the first grade. Her fourth child, a hot-dog lover, taught her to be humble. Cologne and her husband, Duane, tag team meals; she cooks on the weeknights and he takes weekends.
     “For me, the key to keeping the family together is having food in the house and having something healthy that they can choose,” Julie says.
     On a Monday night you might find her baking a huge batch of chicken breasts, which serves as chicken, beans and rice one night, enchiladas a second night and the base to wild rice casserole a third. “If I cook big stuff two or three nights a week, I have enough to carry me through the rest of the week,” she says.
     In addition, Cologne plans for snacking, placing carrots, celery, sliced apples and cheeses on the counter when she’s running behind. “If the food is cut up, washed [and] ready, they eat it,” she says. “If I have nothing ready, they go to chips and Pop Tarts.”