Like most American kids my boy too could live his whole life eating only macaroni and cheese. I do indulge him occasionally, most often at restaurants, where of late better sense has prevailed upon me and I have begun accepting the fact that once in a while, it is ok to refrain from wrestling veggies down his throat. At home however, over a period of 3 years I gradually gave Mac & Cheese a complete make over. Today my innocent little lad eats a version that looks and tastes like anything but Mac & Cheese. A variation of elbow pasta that has veggies, meat and way less cheese and cream, . But every time I serve him this, he delightfully screeches MAC & CHEESE and wipes out the entire bowl! I know he’s going to call my bluff in a year or two. But I’m counting on the fact that by then he would have acquired a taste for all the intruders in his bowl and would care less about the deception his trusted mother put him through ;).
My two cents –
1. Nish and most other young kids I have noticed don’t like too many surprises in their food. They love familiarity.
When I introduced veggies into this dish I started with mushrooms. Mainly because mushrooms easily blend in with cheesy food and Nish always loved them. When I introduced meat, I started first by crumbling in his favorite chicken and bell pepper sausages. Over a period of time I’ve substituted the mushrooms with other veggies like zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, spinach, squash, broccoli etc and the sausages with minced or diced chicken, turkey, beef, shrimp etc.
2. Kids don’t like too much happening in their food. Keep it simple.
I always do only one vegetable and one meat at a time Never a medley. Too many colors from the veggies and too many textures from the meats annoy them and they end up picking out everything that doesn’t look like a pasta noodle. Also, using single kind of different veggie and meat each time gives the dish different flavors every time you make it. A good thing for adults, since you know how easily we get bored. This same recipe when made with either spinach or zucchini tastes so different from the mushroom version that you could kind of give them their own individual names.
3. And the most important of all. Kids love anything that other kids claim to love. So always give your dish a popular name and make sure something in it resembles the actual dish ;). Now you know why most of my pasta dishes use elbow pasta noodle ;).
1/2 lb elbow/penne pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion finely chopped
2 cups chopped cremini mushrooms
meat stuffing from 2 links of sausages(I used 2 links(76g each) of Rocky brand roasted bell pepper and garlic chicken sausages)
2 cloves garlic chopped and crushed
1 can (15 oz) pureed tomatoes (I used S&W vine ripe organic tomato sauce)
white pepper to taste
salt to taste
2 tbsp fresh basil chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
grated Parmesan cheese to taste