Adapting Recipes for Kids Nutritional NeedsCredit: ronnieb @ morgueFileEveryone dreams of the quiet, smiling family mealtime that advertising would have us believe is normal.  Feeding your family is usually more of a frazzled affair.  If your children have varying nutritional needs as well as different preferences, it is hard to know where to begin with adapting a recipe to make sure that everyone eats as much as they need of the right ingredients.  However you choose to develop healthy recipes for your child, it is worth it.  You will develop an awareness around  nutrition that will lead to better health for your entire family.

Two Ways to Approach Recipe Adaptation

You can adapt children's recipes to suit adult tastes or adult recipes to suit your child's tastes.  Here's how:

Bottom Up Method

Start with the lowest common denominator.  There are many good cookbooks on the market for toddlers and older children.  These are generally a good guide for knowing which nutrients each recipe supplies to a child and unless they specify otherwise, they don't break the boundaries of what is acceptable for specific age brackets.  By taking one of these recipes and separating pans, after preparing the basics, for the more grown up flavors most parents will want to experience when they sit down to a meal, you can make a cohesive meal for all members of your family.

Top Down MethodFresh Vegetables for RecipesCredit: hotblack @ morgueFile

Adapting recipes designed for grownups into flavours your children want and the nutritional values they need.  This method often requires more planning and more often than not, more resources to achieve results than working up.  However, this approach can result in improved health and nutrition for all family members as you change recipes to suit a better health lifestyle.

This article focuses on the second method of making adult recipes kid friendly.

To adapt "grown up" recipes for children, you will need to work with recipe software that is capable of analyzing recipe content and revising ingredients until you get to the healthiest options.  Find one that fits your needs and your budget.  A free program downloadable product that does this is Big Oven, though there are others available on the market.

Once you have your program and at least one of your favorite recipes added, start by taking out anything to spicy for your child's palate.  Where you can, cut out added salt and pepper.

Then, have a look at the nutritional aspects and see where these are out of line with the nutrition your children need.  The first area to look at is portion size.  Remember, your stomach, when 

Recipes to Update for Children's NutritionCredit: earl53 @ morgueFile

empty is about the size of your fist.[1654]  A slice of your favorite meatloaf that is any bigger than that is too big.  Keep in mind you need to slip in all the nutrients from fruit or vegetables, as well as calcium into that meal as well.  You may find that although your grandmother's meatloaf recipe claims to be 4-6 servings, that 6-8 servings is more accurate.  This could be even more if you are looking to feed a 4-year-old from the batch.

Don't fret if you can't make a perfect balance from your favorite recipe, if it is still too high in sugar or salt, but your toddler can't live without it, then don't.  It is just one of the foods that you need to serve in moderation.After you have estimated a correct portion size from the recipe, have a look at where certain values are too high, and start adjusting these ingredients.  Some ingredients can be omitted or reduced, while others may have substitutes.  Common ways to cut or substitute are listed below.

What is great about recipe software is that they often come with a meal planner as well.  One of the key ideas to instill in your children at a young age is an introduction to many foods and that variety is a good thing.

Guidelines for Reducing or Substituting Ingredients

  • Choose fresh vegetables over canned vegetables to reduce salt.  If you prefer using canned goods, look for those with no added salt.  Buy canned tuna in brine rather than in oil.
  • Buy lower-salt stock cubes or make your own.  You can make a basic chicken stock by boiling the remains of your last roast chicken in a pot with some chopped carrots, onions, celery and any other vegetables you feel would add flavor.  Add enough water to cover all ingredients and allow the liquid to reduce by at least half.  Strain the broth and store in the fridge, and use within a week.
  • Reduce the use of sauces in your cooking.  Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and ketchup all contain a high amount of salt.
  • Sugar can be halved in most cooking recipes.
  • Boil meats and vegetables rather than frying to reduce added fats.
  • Reduce the amount of meat in a recipe and bulk up on vegetables to cut down on protein.
  • Substitute yoghurt for cream and sour cream.  It doesn't change the end flavor in cooked dishes.  This will reduce the amount of fat.
  • Use two egg whites instead of one egg for many recipes, including some baked goods.

You will find many more substitutions through experimentation within your recipe software.  Your child may even have a great suggestion you never though of based on his or her tastes.  However you approach your family's nutritional needs, you should take the time to enjoy doing it.  The ideal is still the cosy family meal, even if it only happens once a week.

For specific guidelines relevant to ages and an overview of both nutrition models discussed here, have a look at these articles:

Information provided in this article has come from different sources, including web resources such as the Mayo Clinic and books focusing on children's recipes and nutrition.  While much of the data has been researched by nutritionists, some of it is contradictory.  The author of this article is not a pediatrician or a nutritionist and recommends that you contact a registered practitioner should you have concerns with your child's health.