Coming together for a holiday meal is a wonderful tradition. But let’s be honest… if you have young children, or picky eaters of any age, those holiday meals carry just a little bit of dread. Trying new foods is important and wonderful – watching your child throw a tantrum in front of great-grandma isn’t so wonderful. In an effort to make the holiday table enjoyable for everyone, here are a few ideas and healthy recipes that will fill tummies and put smiles on everyone’s faces.
Start with something small
Even if you’re not planning appetizers for the adults this holiday, plan some for the kiddos. Holiday meals are often eaten at strange times of the day or take longer to prepare than planned and if you’ve got hungry kids waiting… you’re about to have cranky kids in meltdown mode. Plan ahead and have some of these ready for the little ones and the whole gathering will be happier:
• Cheese & crackers: Nice for adults and kids alike. Just make sure your tray includes some kid-friendly string cheese and cheddar. You could also use some holiday-themed cookie cutters to cut cheese slices into fun shapes.
• Fruit kabobs: supplies needed? Kabob sticks and fruit. Try grapes, strawberries and either melon or pineapple – all easy to slide on a stick. You could even put out the fruit in bowls and have the kids build their own snack. Two birds with one stone – an appetizer that stops growling tummies and occupies little hands!
• Cheese reindeer: it doesn’t just look fun, it’s healthy and delicious… in fact, you should probably make a few extras for the grow-ups: Laughing Cow Cheese for the head, twist pretzels for the antlers & red bell peppers for the nose.
Easy, kid-friendly dinner ideas
While I’m a big believer in having kids try new things and expand their tasting horizons, it’s not always feasible to do that on a day where the little ones are already feeling a bit overwhelmed. Add these easy options to your holiday dinner table – the kids’ table will appreciate it (and if the grown-ups want to sneak a few bites, that’s okay too).
Homemade baked chicken fingers
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbl milk
1 ¼ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp paprika
Dash of salt & pepper
2 Tbl butter, melted
1 ½ pounds boneless chicken breasts, sliced into ½ inch “fingers”
1. In a small bowl combine the egg and milk. In a shallow dish combine the breadcrumbs and seasoning. Stir in melted butter to breadcrumbs. Dip chicken fingers into egg mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange chicken so the pieces are not touching.
3. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.
A great recipe for holiday dinners for two reasons. First, it’s made in individual ramekins which makes the kids feel special. Second, those ramekins don’t take long to cook so you can pop them in the oven while your roast or when turkey is resting and being carved.
1 lb elbow macaroni
2 8oz packages of shredded sharp cheddar and/or cheddar jack cheese
1 ½ cups milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ cup parmesan
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 stick of butter
1. Cook macaroni according to directions. Drain & set aside.
2. Lightly grease 8 ramekins (8oz each)
3. In a large bowl whisk together the shredded cheese, milk and seasonings. Add the macaroni and toss until well-mixed. Place macaroni & cheese in each ramekin.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the parmesan and bread crumbs. Sprinkle each ramekin with the bread crumb mixture and dot each with ½ tablespoon of butter.
5. Bake at 350 until tops are golden, approx. 20 minutes.
Bonus tip: Keep the kids busy and the wait for dinner will go even more smoothly. Go to the dollar store and buy some holiday coloring books and crayons. Or pick up some cardstock and markers and ask the kids to make name cards to decorate the table.