Many parents complain that they have difficulty getting their children to eat the food they prepare. Head Start, with sites in Billings, Laurel and Lockwood, has been successful in getting children to eat and enjoy food that is healthy for them for years.

The children enrolled in the Head Start program are 3 and 5 year olds, and come from low-income families. The goal of Head Start is to foster healthy development of young children and that involves not only meeting their social and educational needs, but their nutritional and general health needs as well.

The children are served breakfast, lunch and a snack each day, which all follow the dietary guidelines set by USDA for the Child and Adult Care Food Program Meal Patterns.

The meal patterns require a variety of vegetables and fruits along with whole grain foods, more protein options, less added sugar and milk or non-dairy milk that is nutritionally equivalent to milk. A registered dietitian reviews all the menus to make sure they meet the CACFP guidelines.

But as anyone who has been responsible for feeding children knows, it is one thing to prepare healthy meals and another to get the children to eat them.  The children eating the food prepared at Head Start are happy with the food served to them, though. The food is all served family style and the children enjoy eating together as a small family.

One mother commented that her child wouldn’t eat the food she prepared at home, but always would eat what was served at school. The following recipes are ones that have been developed for Head Start and are kid-tested and kid-friendly, but also great for adults.                           

This is a thick hearty soup that gives a different take on lasagna.

Lasagna Soup

(Makes about 3 quarts)

2 pounds ground beef

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes

4 cans (14 oz.) beef broth

½ teaspoon Italian seasoning

1½ cup uncooked pasta shells

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan or stockpot, brown ground beef with garlic and onion until browned.  Remove from stove and drain off fat.  Add broth, tomatoes and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Stir in pasta; continue to cook over medium heat until pasta is done, about 10 minutes.  Stir in cheese.  Serve with additional shredded Parmesan cheese.  *Note: If desired you can use one of the flavored varieties of canned diced tomatoes for more spice or flavor.

Make up a batch of these mini meatloaves, wrap them individually, put in the freezer and have them ready whenever you need them.  The stuffing mix stretches the meat, adds to the flavor, and gives a good texture to the meatloaf.

Mini Meatloaves

(Makes 24 mini meatloaves)

2 pounds lean ground beef

1½ cups stuffing mix

2 eggs

2 cups water

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1½ cups spaghetti sauce

1½ cups Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 2 (12 cup) muffin pans by spraying cups with non-stick baking spray. In a large bowl, combine meat, stuffing mix, eggs, water and seasonings; mix together until well blended. Spoon meat mixture into muffin cups and press firmly in place. With the back of a spoon, make an indentation in the center of each mini-loaf. Spoon the spaghetti sauce into the indentations. Bake 30 minutes or until meatloaves are cooked through. Top with cheese; bake for an additional 5 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

These muffins are light, tender and a different take on banana bread.

Banana Muffins

(Makes 24 muffins)

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup softened butter

2 large eggs

1½ cups mashed ripe bananas  

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until well creamed; beat in eggs until well blended.  Stir in mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla until smooth. In a small bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt; stir into wet ingredients just until moistened. Do not overmix. Stir in chopped walnuts. Spoon mixture into muffin cups. Bake for 18-25 minutes, until tops are golden brown and test done with a toothpick inserted in center. 

Bernie Mason has written the Local Flavor column for the Billings Gazette for three years or so. She was Yellowstone County extension agent for 24 years. Mason grew up in Sidney in a family of German and Danish ancestry. 

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