Healthy Casseroles for Toddlers

by Lori A. Selke, Demand Media
    Baked pasta is a toddler-friendly casserole favorite that you can vary almost endlessly.

    Baked pasta is a toddler-friendly casserole favorite that you can vary almost endlessly.

    Once you banish those oversalted, gloopy cans of cream soup from your pantry, the old-fashioned casserole becomes healthy as well homey. They're not always the fastest dishes to whip up, but they're casual, versatile and they can bake while you and your toddler play. Many casseroles freeze well, and it's easy to make a double batch and store the leftovers in the freezer for a busy night when you don't feel like cooking dinner but still crave a home-cooked meal.

    Tortilla Pie

    Call it tortilla pie or call it stacked enchiladas -- you can even call it Mexican lasagna if that's more your style. Regardless of its name, the concept is the same: tortillas layered with sauce, vegetables, cheese and meat. Beans are an excellent addition as well, adding a dose of both protein and fiber. You can use frozen corn, diced zucchini or chopped spinach as the vegetable -- even olives if your child will eat them. For the meat, use lean ground beef or turkey and season with cumin or mild taco seasoning mix.

    Baked Pasta

    Take cooked pasta, a sauce, a vegetable or two and a sprinkling of cheese or bread crumbs on top and you've got the basic formula for endless variations on a baked pasta casserole -- baked ziti, baked shells, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, turkey tetrazzini, tuna noodle surprise. A clever variation on this theme involves using fresh or frozen ravioli as the pasta base. Add-ins can be anything from green peas to diced butternut squash. Sauteed greens such as spinach or kale are especially vitamin-rich. You might worry about the high fat content of these rich dishes, but remember that toddlers actually need a certain amount of fat in their diet to support brain development.

    Rice Casseroles

    Rice casseroles are just as versatile and variable as pasta casseroles, although they often skip the sauce in favor of a simple egg binder instead. Use pre-cooked brown rice for the extra dose of fiber. Broccoli, chicken and rice -- with or without cheese as you choose -- is a classic combination. A Spanish rice bake can incorporate diced zucchini, corn and/or red bell peppers for a one-dish meal. Or try combining hamburger, sliced cabbage and rice for a sort of deconstructed stuffed cabbage dish.

    Tamale Pie

    Tamale pie consists of a layer of cornbread baked over a layer of meat and beans -- plus veggies such as corn and diced zucchini, if you like -- seasoned with tomato paste and Mexican spices such as cumin and oregano. The beans provide protein and fiber and the cornbread adds B vitamins, calcium and iron.

    Shepherd's Pie

    Also known as cottage pie, this dish consists of a layer of meat and vegetables on the bottom of the casserole, topped with a layer of mashed potatoes. You can use ground beef, ground lamb, ground turkey or even ground bison for the bottom layer. You can even go meatless with a batch of cooked lentils. Combine this with just about any diced vegetable you like -- turnips, parsnips, butternut squash, carrots, corn or peas. You can try eggplant or mushrooms as well. Top with mashed potatoes and bake until golden, and you've produced a one-dish wonder for dinner.

    About the Author

    Lori A. Selke has been a professional writer and editor for more than 15 years, touching on topics ranging from LGBT issues to sexuality and sexual health, parenting, alternative health, popular music, film and video, food and cooking. Her work has appeared in "Curve Magazine," "Girlfriends," "Libido," "The Children's Advocate," Decider.com, "The SF Weekly," EthicalFoods.com and GoMag.com.

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