I do not know what it is about toddlers and their strange eating habits. My daughter once went through a phase where she only wanted to eat blue food. Blue! I have told her not to eat something from the floor only to beg her to eat something from her plate five minutes later.
Food, at this age, should be about experimentation. Toddlers experience the world through their mouths and their hands. It is completely okay to play with your food at this age. In fact, it should be encouraged. My mission is to expose my daughter to all types of flavors and textures of food.
I was once a picky eater and I am determined that my daughter not fall to the same fate. So far, I would like to say that I have been successful. It was important for me to ensure she ate healthy food right from the start. I ate more spinach than Popeye during pregnancy and I made my own baby food.
My daughter could probably live on strawberries and carrots. That sounds good in theory, but she could seriously live on those two foods and nothing else. Toddlers are growing and they are active. “Active” is not even the word to accurately describe these life-sized energizer bunnies. They need “real” food to keep them fueled.
The only problem is, toddlers, do not always want “real food”. They can snack like champs, but when it comes to meal time, they suddenly lose their appetite. Only to whine five seconds after you have cleared their plate that they are hungry! Oh, these tiny tyrants and their meal time shenanigans!
A Toddler Approved Meal
You may have already discovered this, but there is one meal that most toddlers will devour. Macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t love Mac ‘n Cheese? It’s gooey and cheesy. The pasta is perfectly shaped for tiny hands. It is the ultimate comfort food for any age.
My husband has a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese that is pretty much to die for. It has your traditional American yellow cheese and even diced up Smokie Joe’s. It is rich and delicious. We love this recipe in our house. It is the perfect accompaniment to barbecued ribs.
However, I have a recipe for Mac ‘n Cheese that is not only delicious but less than half the calories AND toddler approved.
An Italian Twist on Macaroni and Cheese
My toddler approved Mac ‘n Cheese recipe is a twist on a recipe I fell in love with by Giada De Laurentiis. She calls her recipe “Little Thimbles or Sciue Sciue“. The little thimbles name is in reference to the use of ditalini pasta, which look just like…little thimbles.
This recipe is so simple and super delicious. It only calls for a few ingredients and takes no time to make. To summarize, you saute garlic in a bit of olive oil. Then, add chopped plum tomatoes to the pan. To finish, toss cooked ditalini pasta with the tomato/garlic./olive oil mixture, and add chopped mozzarella and chopped basil.
I have made this dish probably hundreds of times and it is in my “go-to mom/wife recipe repertoire”. It is very helpful to have a handful of dishes that you can make in no time with just a few simple ingredients!
Toddler Approved Macaroni and Cheese
As I stated, I love Giada’s recipe. My toddler loves Giada’s recipe, but as I watching my daughter eat the dish, I realized that I needed to make a few key changes. Sorry, Giada. I know you are a world-class chef, but I am a toddler mom.
One, I needed to swap the ditalini pasta for good ol’ macaroni. The “little thimbles” are cute but almost too small for tiny toddler hands. Secondly, I swapped the mozzarella for burrata. Do you know the difference between mozzarella and burrata? Both are soft Italian cheese, but burrata is like mozzarella filled with cream.
Giada recommends taking a whole mozzarella ball and dicing it into cubes. The only problem is that once it hits the hot pasta, it becomes glue-like. You can stop this process by placing the mozzarella in the freezer for about twenty minutes before adding to the pasta. However, toddlers are like little texture tyrants. The gummy, gluey mozzarella was just not working.
Lastly, I switched plum tomatoes for cherry tomatoes. Then, I can cut them in half or quarters and they are the perfect toddler-sized bite. I like the vine-ripened ones that come in a variety of colors. The more colorful I make a meal for my toddler, the more she wants to eat it!
A Healthy Alternative
This recipe is a healthy alternative to the traditional homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. Giada calculates her version at about 225 calories per serving (about 1 cup). I calculate my version to be about 250 calories per serving. In contrast, Paula Deen’s traditional macaroni and cheese recipe comes in at a startling 828 calories per serving!
Let’s be honest. Macaroni and Cheese in any form is amazing. However, if you can take this classic family favorite and save yourself a few calories, why not do it? I love the addition of tomatoes, as well. It adds a certain sweetness, as well as the pop of color. I think peas or spinach would be great substitutions if you wanted to add a few more veggies!
My toddler gobbled this recipe up and even asked for seconds! Whenever you can fix a meal that your toddler will actually eat, you know you have a winner!