I’m a firm believer in making one well-balanced, healthy meal for the whole family to enjoy, and guys…this easy dinner recipe is perfect for that! It’s suitable for parents and toddlers alike – trust me – the carbs and cheese combo is usually one that wins kids over. And since you only need one pot, you won’t have to do a ton of dishes after cooking!
I’ve got more dinner recipes like this one in my 60 Day Baby Led Feeding Meal Plan – not just for babies, but perfect for the whole family! Over 80 recipes that everyone can enjoy, including toddlers and even picky eaters!
Now, back to this tasty orzo recipe!
The fact that I can cook this in just one pot caught my attention, but the nutrition convinced me it needed to be a staple in my family’s meal rotation. I just love how balanced nutritionally it is, making sure everyone leaves the table full and able to make it to the next meal.
Toddlers, specifically, eat more frequently than adults. Making sure that healthy meals for your toddler are also balanced with fiber, fat, and protein is important to keep them going until the next snack or meal. Offering this well balanced meal can help you avoid the constant requests for something else an hour after mealtime.
What is orzo?
Think of orzo as a cross between rice and pasta – it’s technically classified as a pasta but it’s most often cooked like rice. It’s typically used in soups, or as a creamy side dish (when cooked like rice). It also contains about double the amount of protein than rice, which is pretty darn cool!
Ingredients for this healthy kid friendly dinner
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably scoured Pinterest looking for easy recipes for family dinners – the fewer ingredients the better! And this is one of those healthy kid friendly dinners that fit the bill.
It’s just 8 ingredients!
This is a super easy recipe – nothing is complicated – thankfully! You truly do just dump all these ingredients together in a large Dutch oven and let them do their thing – what could be easier?
Now, I do have just a couple of preferences when it comes to the 8 ingredients. The chicken in particular is one that I want to make a note of for you. Make sure you’re selecting skinless, boneless chicken. I’ve used chicken breasts in this case, but if you want an added iron boost (and babies in particular need a lot of iron, so for them I’d always do this!) choose boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Dark meat naturally has more iron, so that’s an easy swap to get your little eater the extra iron that they need.
The reason I recommend skinless, boneless chicken is that the skin would be a choking hazard for babies, so you would have to remove it anyways, and why not save yourself a step? The other ingredients help keep the chicken nice and moist while cooking, so the skin just isn’t needed in this particular family dinner recipe. And the boneless…that’s pretty self-explanatory! If I’m using only one pot to cook this, I’m not searching through the orzo and peas to scoop out any bones!
I don’t really have any preferences when it comes to everything else, so go ahead and use whatever you’d usually buy for those things! I personally will typically opt for fresh veggies (ie. peas and mushrooms), but frozen peas are also a good choice if that’s what you have available.
Can I make this a vegan or dairy free orzo dish?
Yes, this is a great recipe for that!
Use marinated tempeh, tofu, edamame, or black beans instead of chicken for the protein source. I personally think tofu would be a delicious option, and it’s so easy to sub for the chicken. Plus, tofu is a great texture for babies so this would still be easily baby friendly with tofu.
Dairy milk substitutions:
You can also substitute dairy milk for your milk of choice. That could be almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, or coconut milk. If you’re looking for comparisons in order to decide which type is the best fit for your family, check out my blog on milk alternatives for a complete breakdown.
Try using nutritional yeast instead of Parmigiano Reggiano! This still gives a yummy, cheesy flavor, without the dairy – and a bonus nutritional boost for your little eater too.
How to serve this healthy dinner to a picky eater
Even the best kid friendly dinner recipes will cause some picky eaters to hesitate before eating – it’s impossible to please everyone! But that’s no reason to stop searching for kid friendly meals, many great recipes require modifications or special tactics for helping toddlers or older kids at the dinner table. Luckily for you, I’ve got a lot of experience and expertise in that area so I’m sharing my top tips that work specifically for this delicious dish. And if you need help with this on a broader scale, check out my Feeding Toddlers course for preventing or managing picky eating.
Serve smaller portions for family friendly dinners
For kids that struggle with pasta, or other combined dishes like this one, you may need to get creative when helping them. A great idea you can try if they aren’t loving the idea of having to pick out the things they don’t like by themselves is to allow them to take just a “baby bear scoop” to start with. If they only have a little on their plate, it’s easier to pick through and doesn’t appear to be as overwhelming to them.
This has two main benefits. First, it allows them to serve themselves, which is something kids love to do. Giving them free rein to take as much or as little as they would like to begin with can be really beneficial (more on this below). Second, it makes it easier for them to stick to their role in feeding, which is to choose how much they would like to eat from what is offered, or if they want to eat any of it at all.
Kid friendly dinners should be fun!
You could also make separating out each ingredient a game!
Any opportunity to add in a bit of fun at the dinner table is a win. So for example, have them guess how many mushrooms are on their plate, and then count them as they pick them out. Maybe they even try to stack them up to build a tower. They could do the same with the peas, chicken, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, even the many pieces of pasta. These could also be separated into piles and you can talk about the properties of each, like their color, shape, or texture.
It also sometimes helps to offer them a bowl to place the food they don’t want to eat in so that it’s separate from the items they do like. We call this a “no thank you bowl” and it’s a great way to curb any food throwing that might result from their frustration at having food they don’t like on their plate.
Offer kids some control during meals
In general, little kids love control. So the more control we can give them over their meals, without allowing them to dictate that a whole new meal be made for them, the fewer protests and tantrums you’ll see as a result.
This could even be something as simple as letting them choose the color of the plate they use for their meal or letting them pick out their fork. On busy weeknights when you’re just trying to get food on the table quickly, this is a perfect distraction for them and keeps them occupied while you cook. You could even let your kids help set the table.
It could also mean allowing them to scoop the food themselves, as I mentioned above. This is why I will always suggest trying family style meals for kids. Nothing fancy, just put the pot on the table and let your toddler scoop their portion. The independence it gives is a game changer for their mood at the table and their willingness to try new things.
How do you safely serve orzo pasta to babies?
If you do have a baby who’s just learning to eat and doesn’t have their pincer grasp for picking up smaller finger foods like a piece of orzo – simply preload it on a utensil! You can try a Num Num Gootensil, or a different age-appropriate utensil, and offer it preloaded for them to enjoy. Especially where this recipe is so thick and creamy, it’s easy for it to stick together on a spoon and can help your baby learn to self-feed.
For the chicken, offer larger pieces for babies without pincer grasp and smaller diced pieces if your baby has pincer grasp.
If you’re still in the puree stage, you can add some to a food processor to make a homemade puree. You may need to add in some more milk, or even breastmilk or formula if you’d like, in order to blend it significantly. To read more about making your own purees at home, see my step-by-step guide, here.
Let’s get cooking for the whole family!
After you’re all done prepping the ingredients…you’ve sliced the mushrooms, cut up the chicken, and chopped the basil…get that large Dutch oven out and on the stove.
Turn it on to medium-high heat, and add a splash of water and all the mushrooms. We want to cook those by themselves for a little bit – about 5 to 8 minutes – and make sure you add in more water as needed to prevent them from sticking to the pan.
Next, add in everything except the basil and cheese! If you notice that more liquid is needed, add a splash of more milk. Let this simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Finally, add in the basil and cheese. Serve it to each person, and add a squeeze of lemon juice on top to taste, if desired. From prep to done in about 35 minutes – and you can multitask as moms do while it cooks – plus only one pot to clean. This is one to add to your regular list of go-to healthy dinner ideas for sure!
Healthy meals for the family
If you’re looking for more recipes to add to your rotation of family meals that are baby and toddler friendly, check out my 60 Day Baby Led Feeding Meal Plan! With over 80 recipes included in the plan, you’re sure to find some new family favorites that everyone can enjoy.
Examples of healthy kid friendly dinners from the plan:
- Chicken curry rice cups with roasted parsnips (a My Little Eater grad favorite!)
- Shepherd’s pie bowls
- Slow cooker Swedish turkey meatballs and zucchini noodles
- Lasagna roll ups with roasted zucchini sticks
- Baby meatloaf muffins with mashed potatoes and roasted carrots
Toddler Friendly One Pot Mushroom Orzo
- 1 Dutch oven
- 2 cups water
- 16 cremini mushrooms (sliced)
- 2½ cups orzo (dry)
- 2 cups milk
- 2 ounces chicken breast (cooked, cubed)
- 2 cups fresh peas (or frozen)
- 1 cup basil leaves (roughly chopped)
- ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano (grated)
- ½ lemon (juiced)
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat a splash of the water over medium-high heat. Cook the mushrooms until soft, about five to eight minutes, adding more water as needed to prevent sticking.
- Add the orzo, milk, chicken, peas, and the remaining water. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until the orzo is al dente. Add a splash of milk if more liquid is needed.
- Stir in the basil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Divide into bowls and squeeze lemon juice over top to taste. Enjoy!