When you're deciding what to make for dinner and checking off prerequisites in your head-Is it fast? Is it healthy? Will the kids eat it?-pasta is a surprisingly good pick. "Unlike the simple carbs in sweets, pasta's complex carbs provide steady energy so kids aren't hungry an hour after dinner," says Stacey Finch, R.D., a nutritionist at Arkansas Children's Hospital, in Little Rock. Plus, noodles are full of fiber and folic acid. You'll want to offer a variety of sauces and toppings too. Even kids who love their mac with cheese will usually try healthier options. So to the same old pasta dishes, say, "Ciao, baby!"
Standout Nutrient: Omega-3s
These fatty acids are healthy for a kid's brain, eyes, and heart. And shrimp is a low-mercury choice.
Standout Nutrient: Folic acid
This B vitamin-important during pregnancy and childhood-is in both the pasta and the veggies.
Standout Nutrient: Protein
Thanks to the chicken and beans, your kids will get the lean protein they need to build strong muscles.
Standout Nutrient: Vitamin C
It's a pleasant change from chicken noodle and offers kids at least as many immune-boosting nutrients.
Standout Nutrient: Vitamin A
You can pack extra heart-healthy fiber and vitamin A into the sauce by adding carrots-and your kids won't notice.
Whole-grain pasta has never tasted better-and looked like so much fun. Our for-kids picks:
Tiny pastina is perfect for babies 9 months and up. Earth's Best makes the only whole-grain version.
Putney Pasta's whole-wheat cheese ravioli has spinach cleverly hidden inside so kids get more vitamin A.
Unlike most brands for children who can't tolerate wheat, Mrs. Leeper's Just for Kids Pasta is made with healthier brown rice.
Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.