What is your definition of kid-friendly food?  This may seemingly seem like an easy question but the answer is more complicated than you may think.  When it comes to the politics of food the issue of kid-friendly food can be a loaded question with parents on all sides of the spectrum.

For some parents preparing meals for kids has become a dumb-downed process catering to children’s palates, which is heavily influenced by fast food chains and marketing campaigns for pre-packaged meals on television.  For others it means more of a simplified approach in food preparation such as plain pasta with butter, grilled chicken with rice, or rearranging the way food is plated to look more appealing and appetizing.

In my own family, my daughters are greatly influenced by what their peers are eating and not eating.  This has been both positive and negative.  My older daughter wouldn’t eat hummus until she discovered her best friend loved hummus.   On the downside, my daughters are always asking for me to buy gummy fruit snacks for their lunches because everyone else has them.  When it comes to those charming character molded gummy snacks, we decided last year we would no longer bring them into our home.

Peer pressure is just one channel of influence.  When our family dines out, the concept of kid-friendly food is reinforced by the children’s menus.  I’ve noticed kids menus in most restaurants are all suspiciously similar: deep-fried chicken strips, cheese burgers, corn dogs, mac and cheese, PB & J, and cheese or pepperoni pizza.  No wonder kids prefer these same dishes when eating at home.  Because my kids love eating all of the above mentioned foods, it has become an ongoing battle on what they would like to eat at home and what I actually serve.  The battle isn’t the food themselves,  it comes from my kids only wanting to eat these types of food.  I end up being the “bad” parent for not being a short order cook and caving into their requests.  My sister has a saying that I implemented in our home, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

When I asked for a definition of kid-friendly food on Savory Sweet Life’s Facebook page I loved this answer from Jill Harris Springer, “… anything you can get your kids to eat willingly.”  I invite you to share your thoughts in the comment section below to discuss this because I, as a parent, would love to know.

Here’s a recipe for one of our favorite kid-friendly meals we eat on a regular basis.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • Prep Time: 20 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 30 min(s)
  • Total Time: 50 min(s)
  • Servings: 4-6

A traditional recipe for the kid-pleasing pasta dish.



    • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
    • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • olive oil
    • 1 pound ground beef
    • ½ cup bread crumbs
    • ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
    • 2 large eggs
    • ½ tsp. dried oregano
    • ½ tsp. dried basil
    • 1 ½ tsp. salt

    Tomato Sauce:

    • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I love using San Marzano tomatoes)
    • 1 medium onions, finely chopped
    • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 1 tbs. dried basil
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
    • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
    • ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    You'll also need a 1 lb box of spaghetti



    • Preheat oven to 400° F. Cook onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat until softened (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally. In a large bowl, add the onion/garlic mixture and all the other ingredients. Combine everything by hand until well mixed. Firmly form 2”meatballs by hand. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Brown meatballs and place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes in the oven.

    Tomato Sauce:

    • Prepare Tomato sauce while meatballs are baking.
    • Cook onions and garlic in oil in a pot over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes with juice reserved in a separate bowl. Simmer sauce uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened for 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and half of the reserved liquid until sauce reduces for 5 minutes. *Add parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top as garnish.

    Putting it all together:

    • Cook a 1 lb box of spaghetti to al dente, drain, and plate it. Place a few spoonfuls of sauce on top of the noodles followed by meatballs. Finish it off with a couple tablespoons of parsley and grated cheese.

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19 Responses to “Spaghetti and Meatballs & Kid-Friendly Food”

  1. Kay @ The Church Cook

    So true how kids are influenced by peers! All of my children’s friends who visit my home often love Korean food and can use chopsticks. And my children learn to love other foods from their friends home.
    Spaghetti and meatballs being their most fav! Great article & discussion.

  2. Aviva Goldfarb Aviva Goldfarb

    What you say is so true about how kids are influenced by their peers. Studies also show that kids who eat dinner with their families night after night also develop a more expansive palate because they are exposed to fewer of the traditional kid-friendly (and often not very healthy) foods. I can tell my kids are going to love your spaghetti and meatballs, though!

  3. Carol Sacks

    Great post. As soon as she was old enough, I started feeding my daughter everything and now as a 9-year-old, she’ll routinely ask for toast with goat cheese and pesto for breakfast. I’m aware that my situation is unusual. I am convinced that home cooking and introducing fresh foods in their natural state (i.e., not hiding vegetables in brownies, for example) is how you help your child develop a palate. Peer pressure can be an issue, so we try to balance the fun food with the healthy foods.

  4. Cheryl Arkison

    Our kids are young enough that peer pressure hasn’t started… yet. But the snacks at preschool leave something to be desired. I got flack for bringing cookies, but I’m pretty sure my homemade whole wheat and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies were a better option than yoghurt tubes, processed crackers, and cheese strings.

    Just like all food is kid food, I don’t call kids picky eaters I call them kids.

  5. Grace @eatdinner

    Absolutely Aviva! Kids will experiment more with a wide range of foods if you keep offering them. Peer pressure can work both ways; many of the parents of my older kids love it when their kids have tried something new at my house. That said, my littlest loves “spaghetti and meatballs,” and then asks for no meatballs at the table!

  6. Nellie

    I agree that kids like what they can get out…so, I also make a killer spagetti. I also make a great chicken strip that my kids eat up and I think it is healthier…I use wheat germ with some spices thrown in. dip the chicken in OJ then the wheat germ and fry in a non-stick pan using no oil! then serve sweet potato fries on the side! it is a hit for the whole family and EASY!

  7. Nellie

    or how about a “hamburger helper” with ground turkey, whole wheat pasta and veggies. And my ground turkey meatloaf is a HUGE hit!

  8. Meredith

    For a food to be kid friendly it must a) be something I would eat and b) not be spicy. People who have “picky eaters” bring that on themselves by not expecting their children to eat a normal variety of food in the first place. My son eats what I eat unless it is too spicy. He’s turning 5 in a few months and eats (even enjoys and requests) plenty of foods that people think kids don’t like: broccoli, peas, salad greens, collards & kale, hummus, all kinds of beans, whole grains, tofu, garlic, etc..

  9. Nellie

    I have never made two dinners. My kids eat what I make or not at all too. Can make for a long dinner because my 3 year old has her likes and dislikes…but thank goodness those likes include broccoli and veggies. But, I have to force feed her other items for sure! but, I refuse to make two meals everyday!!

  10. Anne

    You are so right about the influences on kids these days. Interesting what you say about restaurant fare, too. On our most recent rare family experience dining out, we decided to let two kids split one adult meal instead of getting the usual deep-fried, fatty food. This worked, with them both eating things like stir-fried vegetables and grilled shrimp. The cost is about the same as two kids’ meals.

  11. Sarah Ashley

    I’m sure that kids 50 years ago didn’t get special “kid food” – commercials entice kids to want “fun”, fast, and fattening foods. I don’t have a problem with a kids that doesn’t like something. There are plenty of adults who won’t eat lima beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli etc (you know, the veggies that many of the general public find icky.) The problem is when parents don’t even present healthy foods to their children, pre-convinced that their kid wouldn’t like it.

  12. Sarah Ashley

    (cont) Or maybe only make a food a certain way, and not try different ways of including a healthy food into a meal. If you’ve tried at least 10 different ways of making a veggie so your kids likes it and they actually give it a try each time and they still don’t like it, then I say Fine! Find something else they will eat that’s good for them. You don’t need to force them to like everything.

  13. alice

    I’m loving the discussion here! I’ve been feeding my kids a wide variety of foods since they were babies and I still have picky eaters.

    Anne: I have never considered buying an adult entree and having my kids split it. What an awesome idea!

  14. Rachel {Mother's Mementos}

    Kid-friendly to me means simple to make, healthy to eat, & a diet that’s well-balanced. The last one is a challenge b/c my children have different preferences – the first prefers veggies (odd, I know) & the second prefers meats and carbs. I make sure they eat a little bit of everything on the plate. When they start going to school, I’m sure it’ll get interesting w/ the choices presented by their peers. I worry my oldest will get made fun of for eating broccoli, edamame & tomato salad! 🙂

  15. Deborah at Pure Mothers

    I don’t order off the children’s menus in restaurants. Either I spend more $ and order a regular dish and take home the leftovers. Or I order something I want to share with my son. Kid-friendly just means anythng your child will eat. Not all “kids” are the same. Depends on what families cook at home, what ethnic dishes are made regularly, etc.

  16. Michelle (What's Cooking with Kids)

    I don’t like the label “kid food” – I think that it underestimates what kids are capable of enjoying. Plus, it can be a self fulfilling prophecy – if you label it, that’s what they are drawn to, and not to trying other foods instead. It can be so frustrating. It is amazing what can happen when families eat together and spend time together in the kitchen – it broadens horizons.