Cooking with Kids: Pantry Recipes

Published: March 31, 2020

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system, as it offers protection from seasonal illnesses and other health problems. You can help support your immune system by including important nutrients in your family meals, like Vitamins A, C, and E, Zinc and Protein. While at home, try to enjoy time with your children in the kitchen and take the time to teach them valuable cooking, nutrition, and food safety skills. 

We compiled some recipes for family meals and snacks using mostly ingredients you probably already have in your pantry! Gather up your family and enjoy these tips for cooking with kids.

Get the Kids Cooking!

Take advantage of having your kids home and ask them to help you prepare family meals. Helping to prepare your family meals often gives kids a sense of ownership and accomplishment, which might make them try a new-to-them food!

Here are some ideas from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Two-year-olds: Wipe tabletops, wash fruits and vegetables, tear lettuce or greens, break cauliflower or broccoli into pieces.
  • Three to five-year-olds: Mix together simple ingredients, snap green beans, tear lettuce for a salad, press cookie cutters, shape dough, shake liquids in a covered container to mix them, apply soft spreads.
  • Six to seven-year-olds: Peel raw fruits and vegetables, shuck corn, use a vegetable peeler, crack eggs, measure ingredients
  • Eight to nine-year-olds: Use a can opener, juice citrus fruits, check the temperature of foods with a thermometer, beat eggs, pound chicken on a cutting board
  • Children ages ten and older: Slice or chop vegetables, boil potatoes, microwave foods, bake foods in the oven, simmer ingredients on the stove

Be sure to have kids wash their hands before and after helping in the kitchen. Start slow and give your child time to master each task. Be patient with spills and mistakes.

Immune Supporting Nutrients from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Here’s how each of these nutrients play a role in the immune system and where to find them.


Contributes to health and wellness in a number of ways. It aids in providing fullness after meals, which helps promote a healthy weight. Adequate fiber intake can help to lower cholesterol. It helps prevent constipation and diverticulosis. Adequate fiber from food helps keep glucose within a healthy range. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains have a mix of naturally occurring fiber types. When increasing fiber, be sure to do it gradually and to drink plenty of water.

 Vitamin A   Helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy.  Vitamin A typically comes from foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled "vitamin A fortified," such as milk or some cereals.
 Vitamin C   Supports the immune system by stimulating the formation of antibodies. Rich vitamin C foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.
 Vitamin D    Vitamin D has important roles in addition to its effects on calcium and bone homeostasis. Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. It is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and 100% juices that are fortified with vitamin D also are sources of this important nutrient.
 Vitamin E   Works as an antioxidant and may support immune function. Include vitamin E in your diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, and peanut butter.
 Zinc   Helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc tends to be better absorbed from animal sources such as beef and seafood, but also is in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.
 Probiotics   Are “good” bacteria that promote health. They can be found in cultured dairy products such as non-fat Greek yogurt and in fermented foods such as kimchi.
 Protein   Plays a role in the body's immune system, especially for healing and recover. Protein comes from both animal and plant-based sources, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

 Added Sugars at Home

While prepared foods can be easy and convenient, there are factors to consider when choosing nutritious options.

The term added sugar does not include sugars that are found naturally in foods.  It refers to sugars or other sweeteners that are added to foods and drinks when they are processed or prepared. For instance, in addition to desserts and other sweets, sugar may be added to foods such as breads, cereals, energy bars, ketchup, salad dressings and pasta sauces.

  • Remember to read the new Nutrition Fact Labels in your products to learn what the amount of added sugar per serving. Many manufacturers already have started to adapt the new label on their products.
  • When purchasing canned fruit, pick varieties that are canned in water, 100% juice or in its own juices. Many varieties of fruit come packed in light or heavy syrup, which equates to added sugars. Choose canned vegetables without added salts, labeled “no salt added” or “low sodium.”
  • Be mindful that cans marked “reduced sodium” are not necessarily sodium-free. Did you know draining and rinsing canned beans and vegetables can reduce the sodium content as well? Give it a try!

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Healthy Recipes You Can Make With Pantry Staples

Recipes with pantry ingredients can certainly come in handy during these trying times. Here’s a quick round-up of a few healthful and easy pantry meals that you can make with your family.

Garlic and Olive Oil Pasta (Serves 6)

There a variety of ways to make a fast pasta dinner with your pantry stash of grocery store boxed pasta.

What you will need:

  • 1 tablespoon of garlic minced- You can use garlic cloves or minced garlic available in jar in the produce section of the grocery store.
  • 1/3 cup of Olive Oil-Extra Virgin
  • ½ teaspoon of crushed Red Pepper- Flakes of crushed red pepper add a hint of color and a lot of flavor.
  • 1 cup of Parmesan- Fresh grated parmesan adds amazing flavor and texture.
  • Pasta- Box spaghetti pasta does the trick. However, try using whole grain pasta or a legume based pasta for more fiber and protein.
  • Add Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Vegetables- Sautee green beans or asparagus as a side dish or simply toss them in. You can even add spinach for added flavor and vitamins and minerals.
  • Add Protein: Round out this dish with shrimp, anchovies or baked chicken breast.
    *If you want to make this pasta vegetarian, add 1 (14 ounce) can white beans, drained.


Before you begin: wash your hands

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta al dente.
  2. In a medium saucepan, add olive oil and the red pepper flakes. Sauté for 1 minute. 
  3. Add minced garlic. Cook for 1 minute or until golden, careful not to over brown.
  4. Add up to 2 cups pasta water and reduce for 3 minutes. Toss pasta in sauce top with fresh grated parmesan or pecorino and optional fresh parsley.

 Easy One-Pot Red Beans and Rice Recipe (Serves 4)

What you will need:

  • ½ pound andouille sausage
  • *** Feel free to substitute with chicken, shrimp or your favorite protein here.
  • 1 large onion, diced in equal sized pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ¼ to 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried sweet basil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 to 5 drops hot pepper sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped


Before you begin: wash your hands.

  1. Brown the sausage or protein of your choice, with the onion, garlic and celery for about 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, kidney beans, 2 cups water, salt, pepper, thyme, basil, cayenne, paprika, hot sauce, bay leaf, and rice.
  3. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add the rice, decrease heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat. Add the green pepper, stir well, cover and let stand 10 minutes. Stir before serving.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Zesty Roasted Red Pepper Dip Recipe (Serves 8)

Serve this nourishing dip with toasted pita or fresh vegetables as a healthy home snack. The red bell peppers used for this dip are rich in beta carotene, and the walnuts are a good source of heart-healthy omega-3s.

What you will need:

  • 3 roasted red bell peppers*
  • ½ cup unsalted walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped fine
  • ¼ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses ***Optional or make pomegranate syrup instead instructions below
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (leave out if your kids are spice averse!)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for garnish
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, (optional for garnish)
  • Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)


Before you begin: wash your hands

*You can choose to roast the red peppers or use a jar of roasted red peppers.

  1. If you choose to roast them yourself: Preheat oven to 500°F. Cut peppers in quarters; remove seeds and membranes. Place peppers on a baking sheet skin side up. Roast in oven until skin blisters and blackens, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; transfer to a bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.  Allow peppers to cool. When cooled, remove skins.
  1. For a quicker but slightly different result, substitute 1 (16-ounce) jar roasted red peppers.

Once you have your roasted red peppers ready your kids can help you with the following steps:

  1. Combine the red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, pomegranate molasses or pomegranate syrup, lemon juice, red chili pepper flakes and cumin in a blender or food processor. Process the mixture until smooth, stopping to scrape down the side as needed.
  2. With the machine running, slowly pour in 4 tablespoons olive oil. Purée until smooth. Season with salt.
  3. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, parsley and pomegranate seeds, if desired.

Cooking notes:

***Substitute pomegranate juice, which has been reduced to a syrup. Bring 2/3 cup pomegranate juice to a boil in a small saucepan; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until juice is reduced to about 3 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool before using.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Tropical Fruit Yogurt Smoothie Recipe (Serves 2)

Let your kids help you prepare this smoothie as a breakfast option or a healthy snack. Vitamin D and Vitamin C can be found in this recipe and they supports the immune system by stimulating the formation of antibodies.

 What you will need:

  • 6 ounces plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1 medium chopped mango (fresh or frozen)**
  • 1 small banana (fresh or frozen)**
  • ? cup uncooked, rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ cup pineapple or orange juice
  • ½ cup fat-free milk or milk substitute


Before you begin: wash your hands

  1. Put yogurt, mango, banana, oats and ginger in a blender. Add juice and milk.
  2. Whirl in the blender for about 30 seconds, or until mixture is smooth.
  3. If the smoothie is too thick, add juice or milk to desired consistency.

Cooking Notes

*If using Greek yogurt, you might add more juice or milk. Another option: For less added sugars, use plain, fat-free yogurt and sweeten with additional fruit if desired.

**Substitute 1 cup any tropical fruit — or any fresh, frozen or canned fruit you have on hand.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Remember to keep your immune system healthy all year long by focusing on a balanced eating plan ( adequate sleep, and stress management. Stay tuned for our next blog on healthy ways to cope with stress.