Delicious and nutritious foods to add to your family's meals in 2016.

By Natalia Stasenko MS, RD
December 30, 2015
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Feeding a family is a huge task. Planning meals, shopping, and organizing everyone's schedules, not to mention the actual cooking—can be truly overwhelming both for experienced and novice cooks. So it isn't surprising that we tend to prepare the same tried and trusted meals, with little room for adventurous ingredients or recipes.

But, research shows that the more variety children are exposed to from early on the better they eat as they grow. The good news is that you don't need to throw out your old recipe binder and crowd your shelves with dozens of exotic cookbooks to achieve a varied diet for your family.

Instead, aim to introduce one new food per week (or per month) as a side dish with minimal or no cooking or as an additional ingredient to familiar dishes. Here are some great candidates:

  1. Beans and lentils. We can all have more fiber and protein-rich pulses in our diet. Keep a few cans of cooked lentils, chickpeas, white or kidney beans in your pantry to add substance and texture to any soup or salad. I also like to serve them straight up, rinsed and mixed with a little olive oil and lemon. How good for us are beans and lentils? So good that the UN declared 2016 The International Year of Pulses! Check out this site for lots of interesting recipes.
  2. Miso paste. This fairly exotic ingredient can be easily incorporated into most familiar soups and stews for an instant boost of probiotics and umami flavor. Check this recipe for an easy to prepare black bean soup with miso—my kids all the time favorite.
  3. Fermented vegetables. We tend to associate kid-friendly food with bland beige staples. But the truth is that many children are seeking more sensory input from food, including stronger flavors. Make sure to introduce fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or less-spicy kimchi to your baby and order an extra side of pickles when at a Japanese restaurant. Your older kids just may add another food to their list of favorites.
  4. Spaghetti squash. The easiest and the fastest way to prepare this veggie is to microwave the scooped out halves upside down with a little water in a bowl. See the recipe here. Once you loosen up the "noodles", top the spaghetti squash halves with tomato sauce and cheese and bake for 5-10 minutes for an ultimate comfort food experience.
  5. Banana ice cream. This can be your family's go-to recipe for a healthier dessert, especially since you can experiment with a gazillion flavor combinations. Just add a couple of frozen bananas to your blender, press the start button and enjoy a naturally sweet and perfectly smooth frozen treat. Or add vanilla, cinnamon, cacao powder, nut butter, or any frozen fruit or berries for more exciting flavors.
  6. Breakfast smoothie. If you have never tried serving your kids a smoothie for breakfast, 2016 is the perfect year to start. Check out this book or this book for creative smoothie combos that will transform mornings into your family's favorite time of day.
    RELATED: 7 Super Smoothies
  7. Spices and other flavor enhancers. You may be surprised to discover that your little one likes his food with more flavor. The pickiest of my three kids recently declared that the vegetables I cooked "tasted like nothing". Lesson learned, and now I add a variety of spices, lemon juice, and soy sauce to the previously bland offerings.
    RELATED: 9 Ways to Up Your Vegetable Game
  8. Avocado. If your kids aren't avocado fans, try seasoning the avo well and serving it on their favorite food—toast. Smash some ripe avocado, spread it on toasted bread, sprinkle with salt and lemon juice, and add a little olive oil on top. For a less risky introduction, start with a smaller amount of avocado spread under their favorite topping like cheese or ham.
  9. Brussels sprouts. I know, I know, you hated them as a kid and do not want your kids to suffer through this mushy tasteless side dish torture. But the good news is that these little green gems can be absolutely delicious when roasted in the oven or panfried to a perfect crispiness, especially with a little bacon and maple syrup. Get inspired by this recipe from Real Mom Nutrition.
  10. Whole grains. Stuck in a pasta rut? Try exploring barley, buckwheat, quinoa, bulgur, and teff, among many other varieties. Prepare your whole grains in advance, freeze them in small containers, and add as aside dish to any meal. I'm sure you will find a few varieties that your whole family loves. Also good to start: recipes for quick and easy quinoa and other kid-friendly whole grain dishes.

Happy New Year! What new foods will you incorporate in your family's meals in 2016?

Natalia Stasenko MS, RD, CDN is a pediatric dietitian based in London and New York. She offers an online, one-on-one support program for parents of picky eaters called Feeding Bytes, and is the mother of three. Natalia is the cowriter of the cookbook Real Baby Food, and when not writing, teaching or consulting, she is in the kitchen cooking and eating with her family. Follow Natalia on Twitter, read more of her stories on