This Spinach Pesto Is The Secret Sneaky Way I Get My Toddler To Eat Some Leafy Green Veggies

Sadness galore! My toddler has transformed from a voracious, curious, try-everything eater into a picky palate type. And true to stereotype, he really is suspicious of veggies, much to my veggie-loving woe. He once ate anything with abandon — now, more often, dinner and lunch ends up on the floor 🙁

In all heartfelt honesty, as a mama I’m super conflicted. I know it’s a phase and he’ll grow out of it and I need to relax and call on the gods of patience. (And invest in a stronger Dustbuster.) I don’t want to turn mealtime into a battle — I want Budge’s relationship to food to be healthy and pleasurable. The conventional wisdom is to not force kids to eat — if they’re really hungry, they’ll eat, and it’s a parent’s job just to provide good, delicious, healthy options for the kiddo.

But it’s really, really hard for me to see my toddler reject food. And yes, sometimes my feelings do get hurt when I spent time making us something homemade and fresh — and he just throws it on the floor. (The intensity of my hurt feelings seem to correspond with how little sleep I’ve gotten or how stressful my day at work was! #selfknowledge)

This is also complicated by the fact that my toddler kind of slid off the growth charts in terms of weight — heightwise, he’s good, but he’s a tad underweight. (He takes after his tall, skinny papa that way, who somehow can eat 5 high-calories meals a day and never gain weight!) So I feel this pressure and responsibility to have him gain some weight, and I feel worry and anxiety when he doesn’t eat, though I try hard to relax about it.

(Sigh. Seriously, how do parents balance all these prerogatives and priorities? And yeah, I’m keenly aware of the high irony of TRYING SO HARD TO RELAX!)

Anyway, I’ve gotten a little off-track…but this recipe is my secret weapon to get Budgie to eat leafy greens. It’s a basic pesto, but using spinach instead of basil as the basis. It’s highly adjustable — you can sub out the spinach for kale, peas or even arugula. It also uses walnuts instead of the traditional pine nuts, which also ups the super-awesome omega-3 factor. But I’ve seen alternative pesto recipes use almonds as well, which could be a good substitute to experiment with.

The best part of this recipe is that it’s also grownup-friendly — with just an additional bit of salt and perhaps some lemon juice, you can age it up. It’s also freezable — just pour it into an ice cube tray, top each “cube” of pesto with a bit of olive oil and freeze for later! (It takes about a day to thaw in the refrigerator.

Spinach Pesto

8 oz. (or about 2 1/2 cups) of spinach
1/2 cup of basil (optional, really!)
1/4 cup of walnuts, finely chopped or ground
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated
A dash of salt (for older kiddos and grownups)

Cook the spinach with a bit of water until tender and wilted. (I like to chop it all up for easier blending.)

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Then toss it in a food processor — I use Budge’s Baby Bullet! — with the nuts, optional basil, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

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Blend it all together.

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(You can add a pinch of salt and a tad bit of lemon juice to add some brightness if you’d like. And honestly, you can omit the basil if your little one doesn’t like it — mine gets picky about it sometimes, and this recipe works fine without the basil, honestly!)

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What’s great about this pesto, too, is that it’s super versatile. I add some of this pesto to eggs to sneak in some veggie goodness for Budgie’s scrambled eggs in the morning. It’s a yummy sandwich spread, and also works great as a sauce for flatbread pizzas — another Budge favorite! It’s also a great mayo substitute for egg or chicken salad. And, yeah, it obviously goes well with pasta!

In short, a great homemade pesto is a real workhorse in your kitchen arsenal — I make a big batch every week and use it all over the place. I tell myself that it all adds up to an okay amount of leafy green consumption for Budge. Alleviating potential mama guilt? Definitely a win!

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