Fun Fall Twist on Recipes for Children

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It can come to no shock to parents that it can be hard to get their kids to eat their vegetables. The USDA MyPlate general recommendation is that children aged 5-8 years old need 1.5-2.5 cups of vegetables each day. A good way to visualize one cup is comparing it to your fist or to a baseball and a half cup can be visualized as two golf balls. Vegetables are a very nutrient dense food containing many important sources of potassium, dietary fiber, folate, Vitamin A and C. Per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, children aged 5-8 score a 55 (out of 100) on the Healthy Eating Index and usually are only consuming at or below 1 cup of vegetables on a daily basis. The Healthy Eating Index is a way to measure how the intakes of food groups align with the Dietary Guidelines. It is noted that the HEI scores tend to decrease as the children go into their adolescent life stages. 

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines measures childhood obesity at 41% in the United States. Based on this finding, it is important to focus on improving the current intakes for children by starting to develop a healthy diet pattern. A few ways we can do that is to focus on nutrient-dense foods and reducing intakes of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, and lentils, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry. You can see that it is a common characteristic of nutrient-dense foods to have little added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. 

Read more about this: Dietary Guidelines

There are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity. One factor that parents and guardians can have an impact on is behavior of eating habits. Parents and guardians are role models for children and can have an impact on the child’s behavior and view of healthy eating. Children are very impressionable when they are in their younger years. Like I stated above, it can be a difficult task to get children to eat/enjoy vegetables. There can be hesitancy with any new foods but with repeated exposure, it can help to develop children’s food preferences at an older age. If your child did not like how the vegetable was served one way, try it in another dish or food. It is important to create a positive environment around food for our children so that they can continue their healthy diet patterns as they get older. Knowing how impactful the food we eat is to our overall health, getting children to meet the recommended intakes should be a challenge that parents/guardians desire to take on and conquer! 

My favorite way to get children to eat vegetables is to hide them! Having foods that they already enjoy by adding in a few vegetables is a great way to start exposing and experimenting with what they like/dislike! The other tip to getting children excited to eat their vegetables is to make the food fun by adding fun shapes, animals, or themes! By making it fun, it may make the children “forget” that they are actually eating vegetables! They will have so much fun joking that they are eating a “spider” that they may not realize it is a green pepper! 

Here are some fun fall-inspired twists on common recipes that can make the eating experience pleasurable for children!

Garden Quesadillas

Spooky Garden Quesadillas!

Garden Quesadillas but Make It Spooky!

Recipe comes from N.C. Cooperative Extension – Local Food Program 

Serves 6: 


  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped bell pepper
  • ½ cup zucchini 
  • ½ cup yellow squash 
  • ½ cup cooked black beans, drained 
  • Cooking spray 
  • 6 eight-inch Whole Wheat Tortillas 
  • 2 ¼ cups of shredded 2% sharp cheddar cheese 

(Author’s note: you can switch out the vegetables for what is in season or what can be found at the store! The whole point is just adding those hidden vegetables.) 

Prep for the fun twist:

Take 1 of the tortillas for each separate quesadilla and cut an outline of a jack-o-lantern face but still keep the face intact! This makes for easier flipping of the quesadilla. Once it is cooked, you will continue to cut and take the face of the jack-o-lantern out!


  1. Add olive oil to a large nonstick pan. Once warm, add the onion and sauté at medium-low until soft. Add the bell pepper to the pan, cooking until slightly tender. Add the zucchini and yellow squash, and cook until tender. Add the black beans to the vegetables and cook until the mixture is heated throughout. Put the mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Wipe out the same pan and coat it with cooking spray. Place one tortilla in the pan. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the cheese evenly over the tortilla, and layer ¾ cup of the vegetable mixture over the cheese. Sprinkle another ⅛ cup of cheese on top of the vegetables, then top with the 2nd tortilla. 
  3. Cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes on one side before flipping the quesadilla. Cook until both sides are golden. Remove from the pan, and repeat with remaining ingredients. Cut each quesadilla in half with a pizza cutter. Serve with avocado, salsa, or sour cream if desired.
MyPlate Mini Pizzas

Creepy Crawly Mini Pizzas

MyPlate Mini Pizzas but Make It Creepy Crawly!

Recipe from NC State Extension Steps to Health 

Serving size: 1 piece


  • Package of whole wheat English Muffins 
  • Marinara or Pizza Sauce (look for low added sugars) 
  • Reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • Green bell pepper 


  1. Toast muffin until very lightly browned 
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F
  3. Place toasted muffin on a baking sheet
  4. Spread sauce onto the muffin 
  5. Sprinkle the cheese 
  6. Place the bell pepper creepy crawlies onto the pizza 
  7. Bake at 350°F for 4-6 minutes or until cheese melts and muffins are thoroughly heated 

(author’s note: these make a great quick meal or snack!) 

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As seen in Yadkin Valley Magazine September / October 2021