The Next Food Network Star Cooks With Toddlers

next food network star melissa d'arabian

The newest Food Network Star is Melissa d'Arabian, stay-at-home-mom of four and host of the new show Ten Dollar Dinners. Earlier this week she talked to us about the "No Thank You Bite" rule in her home. Today, she continues to answer our questions about picky eaters and tells us about the healthy meals she makes for her four toddlers.


CM: What are some healthy meals and foods that your kids really enjoy?

My kids get really crabby if not properly nourished. So I always start the day with a combination of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein. I also find that they will eat almost anything in the morning because that is when they are the hungriest. I try to get whatever I can into them at breakfast because that gives me more flexibility throughout the day.

  • I make spinach puree out of fresh spinach and put it in so many things. Their  favorite breakfast item is pureed spinach in vanilla yogurt. My kids think it is hilarious to eat green yogurt. I can get them to have 1.5 servings of veggies this way.
  • Oatmeal is also good. It's trickier, though, because not everyone likes oatmeal right away. Oatmeal is a great place to put in fruits, carrots, or zucchini. I mix in flax-seed for fiber or soy flour for protein...Chopped-up dried fruits are good, too, but you have to be a little careful because of the sugar.
  • Chicken a l'Orange is great. It's elegant enough for dinner party and has a sophisticated flavor; but it's sweet enough kids. I serve it with fennel slaw. Fresh fennel has a really mild flavor that tastes sophisticated to adults but also has a touch of licorice flavor for kids.
  • I buy bacon when it goes on sale (2 for the price of 1) and keep it in the freezer. You can slice off the tiniest little bit and use it to saute up raw [vegetables]. My kids love it because it takes the edge off the rawness and makes it more appealing. And my husband loves it even more.

How do you involve your daughters in the cooking process? What are some safe ways for toddlers to be involved in the kitchen?

I involve my kids as far back as grocery shopping. In the produce department, I let them each pick out one thing. The produce department is full of all shapes, sizes, and textures—it's as fun as picking out a toy in the toy store. We go around and I pick them up so they can reach everything and they will pick out the craziest fruit or vegetable they can find. And then I go home and create a meal around that ingredient. They love to explore the produce department. This is why my 4-year-old Valentine loves bok choy so much!

The other thing I do is get the girls set up around the island in my kitchen. Everyone is on a chair, and I give them own little plastic cutting board and plastic knife. Then I will give them a small version of whatever it is that I am making...they also love filling a muffin tin. Who cares if it messy? I'll give them potato slices, etc. There is nothing prettier on the plate then food who is made or constructed by your daughter.

How do you get your toddler involved in the kitchen?

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