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Tasty recipes to make with kids

April 16, 2020 | Kristina Lindgren
pumpkin chocolate chip breakfast muffins

Healthy meals for kids needn’t skimp on flavor. And when children participate in the cooking, too, you’re engaging in family-bonding that can relieve the stress of being housebound during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

An added bonus: Learning to make tasty and nutritious meals can pave the way to a lifetime of smart choices!  

It's the ingredients that make all the difference. Pumpkin, for example, is a versatile superfood that is:

  • High in fiber, iron and zinc
  • Low in calories, yet very filling
  • Rich in beta carotene — hence its dark orange color — that promotes long-term eye health, helping to prevent cataracts and reduce the risk of macular degeneration

Dark green leafy spinach is another power vegetable, packed with vitamins A, C, K, folic acid, iron and calcium, says Katie Rankell, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. It also has been shown to:

  • Reduce cancer-causing oxidative stress
  • Protect eyes from damaging ultraviolet light
  • Improve blood pressure

These recipes, created by Chef Jessica Van Roo, assistant director of Culinary Recreation & Experiential Programs at UC Irvine, combine them both for a full day of budget-friendly dishes your kids will love to make.

coconut chocolate chip baked oatmeal

Pumpkin Chocolate Muffins

Serves 6, two muffins per serving (Total cost of recipe: $4.28/ $0.36 each)

Whole wheat flour not only boosts fiber, it increases satiety and lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, says Rankell. Semi-sweet chocolate chips, natural sweeteners agave syrup or maple syrup, and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg punch up the flavor without the calories of table sugar.

Ingredients *

  • 2/3 cup agave or maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 eggs, mixed (let kids crack in a small bowl to prevent shells in the batter)
  • ¾ cup canned pumpkin
  • ¼ cup water or milk
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

* Let your children measure the ingredients.


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a 12-muffin tin with liners.

In a bowl, mix sweetener, oil and eggs. Add pumpkin and water or milk. (Let kids whisk wet ingredients together.)

In a separate bowl, mix baking flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt. (Let kids whisk dry ingredients together to break up any large lumps.)

Add wet mixture into the dry ingredients, then stir in chocolate chips.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. (Let kids spoon the batter into the muffin cups.)

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool for several minutes before serving.

spinach, squash, macaroni and cheese bites

Crunchy Spinach and Squash Macaroni Bites

Serves 4, makes about 24 pieces (Total cost of recipe: $5.05/$1.26 per serving)

Adding butternut squash to these other nutritious ingredients boosts the fiber, vitamin and minerals while being low in calories.


Macaroni mix:

  • ½ pound elbow macaroni, preferably whole wheat
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoon flour
  • 5 ounces butternut squash, pureed (winter squash)
  • 1 ¼ cups, low-fat milk
  • 3 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated (Let kids grate.)
  • 2 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, freshly grated (Let kids grate.)
  • ¼ cup cottage cheese
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 5 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry (Let kids squeeze dry.)

Crust mix:

  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs, preferably whole-wheat
  • 2 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (Let kids grate.)
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil


 Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a mini-muffin tin by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray. (Let kids spray pan or lightly brush oil in each muffin cup.)

Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and toss with a few drops of olive oil to prevent sticking. (Let kids help toss with olive oil.)

In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat, add onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring until onions begin to turn clear. Turn flame to low-medium and sprinkle in flour and stir well. (Let kids stir.)

Add milk to the saucepan, stirring constantly and add butternut squash puree. Turn heat to medium and cook just until the milk begins to simmer, stirring occasionally.

Turn off the heat, add the cheeses, salt and granulated garlic into the milk mixture and stir well.

Add the cooked macaroni to the cheese mixture and stir well to combine. Then stir in the spinach. (Let kids add macaroni and spinach.)

In a small bowl, combine the crust ingredients and mix well. (Let kids make the topping.)

Let kids spoon macaroni mixture into each mini-muffin cup and sprinkle with the panko mix.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Black-bean cakes

Black Bean Cakes with Fresh Salsa

Serves 4, makes 8 cakes (Total cost of recipe: $4.28/ $1.07 per serving)

Black beans are an excellent source of fiber and non-meat protein, not to mention phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, all of which enhance bone strength and overall health. Corn is a high fiber starchy vegetable that aids in digestion and has many eye healthy carotenoids. Tomatoes get their rich red color from lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight many types of cancer, improve eye health, blood pressure and immunity.


For cakes

  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed (Let kids drain and rinse in a colander.)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • ¼ cup oat flour *
  • ⅓ cup oat flour in separate container
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

* To make oatmeal flour, place oats in a food processor and pulse the oats until you get a fine powder. (One cup of oats produces one cup of oat flour.)

For salsa

  • 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (Let kids pick leaves.)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder (optional)
  • ½ lime’s juice (Let kids juice lime.)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 425°F. (These cakes may also be cooked on the stove.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, and coat with cooking spray. (Let kids prep baking sheet with parchment or foil.)

In a large bowl, mash beans with cumin until smooth and no whole beans remain. (Let kids mash beans and spice.) Stir in egg, corn and ¼ cup of oat flour and mix well.

In a small bowl, mix remaining ⅓ cup oat flour, smoked paprika and oil until the flour is coated with oil. (Let kids mix.) 

Divide bean mixture into 8 ½-cup balls. Lightly press each bean ball into the oat flour mixture. Place bean balls onto prepared baking sheet.

Let kids press bean balls to form patties, then dip each patty in oat mixture and return to baking sheet.

Bake the cakes until heated through and golden brown, about 20 minutes, flipping after 10-15 minutes. (To cook on stove, heat the oil in a pan and pan-fry cakes until heated and cooked through.)

Serve salsa with the cakes.

To make the salsa, combine tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, garlic, cumin, chili powder, lime juice and salt in a mixing bowl. Taste and add more salt as needed. (Let kids mix and taste to adjust seasoning.)

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