Most toddlers and preschoolers are picky eaters. When you’re invited to a potluck, you want to ensure your contribution will be fussy-kid friendly. A successful potluck dish is easy-to-transport and doesn’t require much effort to reheat and serve. For little ones, the criteria is different: nothing a toddler or preschooler could choke on, the food should be easy to handle and not contain (visibly anyway!) those pesky veggies that munchkins love to hate.
Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Mac and cheese is a bland but tasty go-to meal for little ones. For a cheese sauce, take equal parts butter and flour, melt the butter over low heat and stir in the flour until combined into a thick paste. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. For 1 tbsp. of flour and butter, use a cup of milk. If you’re serving lots of people, double or triple the recipe. Turn the heat up to medium so the mixture is boiling gently and continue to stir. Let the mixture thicken for five minutes or so, then slowly add your cheese, stirring until melted. Make it as cheesy as you’d like. Add the sauce to your cooked pasta, making it saucier than you normally might as it tends to dry out if not served immediately. To reheat at the potluck, a double boiler is best, but directly on the stove-top is okay, too – stir constantly, so it doesn’t stick and burn. If it’s a bit thick, add some milk or water.
Prepare a tomato-based sauce, with or without ground beef. Use a kid-friendly pasta shape, preferably a short pasta that is easy to pick up with a fork or little fingers. Penne rigate is a good choice, since the sauce will stick to its ridges and it’s easy to grab. Shred a bunch of cheese, preferably a mild cheese like cheddar or mozzarella, or better yet, a blend. Cottage or ricotta cheeses work well in a baked pasta. Mix the pasta, sauce and cheeses together and scoop it into an oven-safe casserole dish with a cover. Remember to under cook the pasta slightly, as it will continue to cook when you bake it later. To warm up, place the casserole dish covered in a 350 Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes or so. For serving, cut the penne into 1/2-inch, bite-sized pieces for toddlers or preschoolers.
Most kids love lasagna and it’s easy to transport and reheat. For an easy lasagna, use oven-ready, no-boil lasagna noodles. Prepare a tomato-meat sauce and shred some mozzarella cheese. Beat an egg with a container of cottage or ricotta cheese. Start by smearing a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your casserole dish. Now layer the lasagna, covered by sauce, then cottage cheese, another pasta, sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella, another pasta, sauce and then top with some Parmesan cheese. Bake according to the instructions on the pasta box, pulling it out about 10 minutes early so it doesn’t become soggy when reheating. To reheat, cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. For serving, cut the serving into 1/2-inch, bite-sized pieces for toddlers or preschoolers.
A nice chili with beans, meat and veggies is healthy and delicious. Start by browning some meat. Throw in an onion, celery and finely diced carrot and cook until the meat is completely browned. Pour in a can of diced tomatoes, a jar of pureed tomatoes and two cans of kidney beans – black beans are good, too. Add a few tablespoons of chili powder (enough to give it flavor, not enough to make it spicy). Simmer for a few hours so the flavors can meld. Simply reheat on the stove and serve with bread.