The Ultimate Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce

This Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce contains over five different vegetables, yet your little ones will never even know it. It’s the perfect base for a weeknight meal the entire family will love, plus it’s simple to make and freezer-friendly!A bowl of whole wheat penne loaded with Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce, the perfect family-friendly freezer meal!

If you’re sick of struggling to get your toddler to eat anything of nutritional value, stuck in a rut with what to make for your family’s picky palates, or just ready to mix up your dinner game, this Ultimate Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce recipe is for you!

You’re going to love that this recipe is packed with nutritional value, comes together with almost no waste, can be made well in advance AND makes plenty to cover at least two dinners for your family. Every mama’s favorite kind of recipe!

Why Hide Veggies in Your Food?

While it’s important to remember to continuously offer your baby or toddler vegetables in their truest form, there are several arguments to be made for hiding them in recipes whenever you can:

Textural Issues of Whole Veggies

First, it introduces your child (or hey, even your picky spouse) to a new flavor or flavors even if he or she can’t get past certain textural issues with the vegetables in their pure form. The texture issue is a real one for many picky kids and this is a great way to overcome it!

Increased Nutritional Value

Secondly, sneaking veggies into a recipe your family already loves is a fantastic way to up its nutritional value. Many little ones love foods like muffins, pizza and pasta, so why not make them healthier versions and get some extra nutrients in in the meantime?

Benefits the Entire Family

One of the biggest things I stress to my clients and course students is the importance of eating together as a family and everyone eating the same thing. If you’re always thinking of ways to add more veggies into what you’re making for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the entire family will benefit from the increased nutritional value.

Food Segue

Hiding veggies in foods your little one(s) already love is also a great way to begin a food segue. This is a gradual technique used for feeding babies and toddlers that eventually gets them to like a certain food in its purest form. You can read more about how to do a food segue with your baby or toddler here.

A dish of pasta topped with Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce.

Tips for Hiding Veggies in Food

I know what you’re thinking: But where do I start when it comes to hiding veggies in all my favorite recipes? Well, this Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce is a great start, but here are some general guidelines you can follow when you’re experimenting with adding veggies to other types of recipes:

Match Colors and Shapes

Think of a vegetable that will compliment a food that your little one already loves – and looks like it, too! For example, pair diced beets with berries, or kiwi with avocado.

Make It Small

One of the best ways to slowly start introducing a vegetable to your baby or toddler is to do it in small doses and then gradually increase the amount. Shredded or puréeing vegetables are perfect ways to work them into the mix.

Take Advantage of What Your Little One Already Likes

If your babe is already obsessed with sweet potato, slowly start working some butternut squash into the mix. If he or she can’t get enough of muffins or pancakes, play around with the different ways you can up their nutritional value the next time you make them. Capitalize on what already works!

An overhead shot of a bowl of Hidden Veggie Pasta.

How to Make Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce

The simple answer: throw everything together in a big saucepan or Dutch oven, let it simmer away, then purée!

Once you have all of the ingredients prepped, this recipe involves almost no hands-on time. I also love that this recipe has almost no waste, we use a full cans or cartons of everything, so you don’t have to worry about half a carton of broth sitting unused in your fridge for weeks to come.

Freezing Your Pasta Sauce

 If your making this recipe in advance and plan to serve it later (which you totally should!) follow these tips for storing:

  • Once the sauce has cooled down slightly, transfer it to Mason jars or a resealable plastic bag
  • Let it cool completely
  • Label it (and be sure to include the date you made it)
  • Freeze until ready to use!

Different Ways to Serve Your Sauce

News flash: This red sauce isn’t just for pasta! Here is a list of all of the different ways you can use up your batch of sauce:

Pasta
Pizza
Lasagna
BAKED chicken
Egg bake
stirred into Polenta
Eggplant Parmesan
Chili
Stuffed peppers/spaghetti squash
Minestrone or other tomato-based soups
As a dipping sauce for grilled cheese

Now, who’s ready to get cooking??

If you try this recipe, be sure to rate it and leave a comment below!

Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
35 mins
 

This Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce is great for all ages and is the perfect base for a weeknight family meal. It's freezer-friendly and makes a ton so you'll always have a healthy dinner option on hand. It's also loaded with more than five different veggies!

Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: baby-friendly, baby-led weaning, family-friendly, freezer-friendly, Italian, kid-friendly, make-ahead, pasta, red sauce, toddler, vegetables
Servings: 20 people
Calories: 40 kcal
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium roasted sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning Salt-free for young babes
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 32-ounce carton chicken or vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper, to taste Minimize for young babes
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once oil is heated, add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until onion starts to become fragrant and translucent.

  2. Add garlic, carrot, bell pepper, zucchini and sweet potato and stir to combine. Allow to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes. Add Italian seasoning and stir to combine.

  3. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken broth, and once again stir to combine. Bring to a low boil (very gently bubbling), then turn off heat.

  4. Transfer sauce to a blender in two batches. You may need to use a mixing bowl to hold some of the extra soup while you are blending. Blend until smooth, then return to the original saucepan or Dutch oven on low heat.

  5. Season with salt and pepper as needed, but if you will be serving this to young babes, minimize the salt as much as possible.

Recipe Notes

TO FREEZE: Let sauce come to room temperature, then transfer to Mason jars with lids, label (including date made) and freeze.

The Easiest Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups

These Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups are baby- and toddler-approved, but great for the whole family! Make them in advance and stick them in the freezer to have a healthy, nutritious breakfast ready to go on busy mornings.

A cooling rack of freshly baked Pumpkin Apple Oatmeal Cups.

I don’t know about you, but our toddler always wakes up hungry and ready to eat. It seems like we can barely get a clean diaper on her before she’s begging “Food! Food!” Breakfast also so happens to be her favorite meal of the day, and she eats far more in the morning than she does for lunch and dinner, so we always try to have healthy, quick options on hand for her.

We’ve been big fans of baked oatmeal in our household for a while now. I love that it’s jam-packed with nutrients (especially with the right mix-ins) and that it’s handheld, resulting in much less of a mess than classic or even overnight oats make. While traditional baked oatmeals (in baking pans or dishes) are great, turning your baked oatmeal into single-serving cups ups the convenience factor and makes it really easy to only defrost what you need.

Here’s how this easy and tasty recipe is done!

What You Need

The good news is – not much! Most of the ingredients you’ll be using you’ll already have on hand, especially if you’re making this in the fall.

Rolled oats

I love getting the big bags from Trader Joe’s (these ones also happen to be gluten-free if you need that.)

Pumpkin purée

Buy the can OR make your own with this super simple homemade pumpkin purée recipe!

An apple
Milk

Any kind!

An egg
Maple syrup

And pantry staples like…

Baking powder, salt, vanilla extract and pumpkin pie spice

As far as equipment, you’ll just need a cupcake pan (we love these silicone ones *affiliate link*), a couple of bowls, a couple of measuring cups, and a whisk!

An overhead shot of Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups cooling on a rack.

How to Make Baked Oatmeal Cups

Once you get the basic process of these Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups down, you’ll be able to create tons of different variations.

Simply whisk together the dry ingredients, whisk together the wet ingredients, combine the two, and bake. Easy as that!

Other ideas for flavor combinations might be:

Banana and chocolate chip
Sweet potato and orange
Zucchini and raisin
Peanut butter and apple
Cinnamon and berry
Vanilla and peach

The possibilities are endless.

A straight-on look at a freshly baked batch of Pumpkin Apple Oatmeal Cups.

How to Store Baked Oatmeal Cups

Once the cups are baked and cooled, place them in a gallon-size Ziploc and freeze for up to three months.

When you’re ready to serve, simply microwave however many you need for 30 seconds to a minute (maybe more if you’re defrosting a bunch at once.)

Just like my Super Simple Pumpkin Carrot Muffins or my Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Cookies, these cups are a great on-the-go option for busy mornings, or even a great travel snack when you’re on the road. 

Read on for the recipe and, if you want to learn more of my tips and tricks for feeding toddlers, be sure you’re signed up for my weekly newsletter!

A stack of Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups leaning against a pitcher of milk.

Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
35 mins
 

These Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal Cups are baby- and toddler-approved, but great for the whole family! Make them in advance and stick them in the freezer to have a healthy, nutritious breakfast ready to go on busy mornings.

Course: Breakfast, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: after-school, apple, baby-friendly, baby-led weaning, breakfast, freezer-friendly, meal prep, oatmeal, pumpkin, toddler
Servings: 12 people
Calories: 114 kcal
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
Ingredients
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 cups milk of your choice (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée (Use canned or follow the link in the Recipe Notes to make your own)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup diced apple
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray cupcake pan with cooking spray and set aside.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oats, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together milk, pumpkin purée, maple syrup, egg and vanilla.

  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Whisk in diced apple.

  5. Using your 1/4 cup measure, scoop mixture into prepared cupcake pan.

  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes, or until oatmeal is set.

  7. Let cool at least 10 minutes before removing from pan. Let cool completely before transferring to Ziploc for freezer storage.

Recipe Notes

Here's the recipe for homemade pumpkin purée!

4 Things NOT to Say When Speaking to Your Toddler About Food

When it comes to feeding toddlers, what you SAY can have just as much of an impact on how they eat as what you do or serve. Here’s a list of four things NOT to say when speaking to your toddler about food to set him or her up for success right now and in the future.

Title image for 4 Things NOT to Say to Your Toddler When Speaking About Food.

If you’re a parent, you know it. Feeding toddlers is tricky with a capital “T”. Chances are that at one point or another your toddler has wanted to eat the same three things over and over again, and/or has completely refused to eat anything of any nutritional value, and/or has liked something one second only to loudly exclaim “no like” the next. It’s a tough road to navigate, and it takes a lot of psychological manipulation to successfully do so.

That’s right, today I’m here telling you to psychologically manipulate your child. It sounds strange to flat out say it like that, but it’s the truth. What we say to our toddlers now when it comes to food and eating will lay the foundation for not only their current eating habits, but their relationship with food in the future. It’s just as important, if not more so, than HOW we feed them or WHAT we feed them.

Having studied psychology – and having gone through my own rocky relationship with food – I’ve made it my mission to raise my daughter to have the healthiest, most positive relationship with eating that she can. This means countless hours studying the research, perfecting my own relationship with food, and practicing all that I’ve learned with my little girl. Throughout everything, I’ve been able to glean what really works and what doesn’t when it comes to speaking to your toddler about food, and that’s what I’m here to share with you!

A toddler sitting on a kitchen counter eating blueberries with a quizzical look on her face.

Read on to learn the four things to watch out for when speaking about food with your littles, along with ways to rephrase what you say for optimal results:

Presenting things as “black and white”

One of the main things you want to watch out for when speaking to your toddler about food is presenting it as “healthy” or “unhealthy” or “good for you” or “bad for you.” This presents things as more “black and white” or “yes” or “no” to your child, where the real goal is to teach him or her balance and everything in moderation.

Rather than using these phrases, try focusing on other aspects of food and eating, like how the food tastes, how it makes our bodies feel, or how the food looks.

Some examples of this would be:

“Mmmm don’t these mashed sweet potatoes taste nice and creamy?”

“Doesn’t this broccoli make you feel strong?”

“How fun are all these colors on our plate? Are they making a rainbow?”

Your own negative self-talk

Toddlers are sponges, and they absorb more than we think. Be mindful of how you speak about your own body image or eating habits when you’re around your toddler, because it will most certainly rub off on him or her. Never make comments in front of them about needing to lose weight or not being able to eat something because it’s not on your diet, or saying you need to lose 10 pounds before you can wear a bikini. In a similar vein, be wary of your comments about THEIR size.

Here are some great POSITIVE examples of things you could say instead:

“I love eating lots of fruits and vegetables because they make me feel happy and energized.”

“Let’s put on our swimsuits and go swimming!”

“You’re so strong!”

A toddler and mom baking together at the kitchen counter.

Forcing

I talk about it a lot, but forcing your child to eat something will only lead to resentment and resistance and potentially set them up for disordered eating in the future. The secret is to continuously introduce new and different foods to your toddler, while allowing him or her the autonomy to choose what he or she will or won’t eat. If you offer enough healthy options, your little one will find SOMETHING he or she loves. Perhaps the greatest way to overcome the feeling of needing to force is to lead by example! If your child sees you eating healthy food on the regular, he or she will want to do the same (see my above note about toddlers being sponges).

Dwelling on the negative

Perhaps one of the biggest things we can avoid when communicating with our toddlers about food (and related to #4) is dwelling on the negative. Don’t focus on what they didn’t eat, or how little they ate. Instead, celebrate the wins and encourage positive behavior! If your child tastes something they’ve never tried before, let them know how proud you are of them. If they ate a well-rounded meal, exclaim to them how good they must feel. Kids love positive reinforcement, so dole that stuff out on the regular.

This is just my quick summary of what NOT to say or do when speaking to your toddler about food, but there’s a lot more where that came from! If you want to learn more about feeding your little one, click here for my free cheat sheet on dealing with picky eaters AND to get on the list to be notified when my next Feeding Toddlers: Unlocked! comprehensive course kicks off. I can’t wait to see you there!

A mama holding her toddler in the kitchen and giving her a big kiss.

5 Tips for Introducing New Foods to Your Toddler

Use these five tips to consistently introduce new foods to your toddler – in a way that will actually get them to eat them! These pointers and strategies will help expand your little one’s palate and turn him or her into a healthy, adventurous eater for life.

5 Tips for Introducing New Foods to Your Toddler Title Graphic

Ohhhh feeding toddlers. The never-ending challenge. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a mama who doesn’t have at least one thing she’d like to change about her toddler’s eating habits. You’re not alone! It happens to everyone. Heck, I’ve spent the better part of a year consuming all of the research and techniques under the sun for this and I STILL sometimes wish my toddler would just eat whatever I give her with no resistance or complaint.

But there are a lot of things I HAVE learned in all of my research that have made the adventure of feeding my toddler just a little bit easier, and I’m sharing my top five tips with you today! Read on to learn some of the best ways to introduce new foods to your little one.

And if you’re ready to start introducing new foods but feel you need some accountability partners, I’d love for you to sign up for my Three New Foods Challenge. In this challenge, I personally walk a small group through the entire process of introducing three new foods over the course of a few weeks via a private Facebook group. It’s so much fun and is a great way to stay accountable (and meet some other mamas in the process.) Click here to learn more!

Now, let’s get on with these tips

Tip #1: If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying

If you introduce a new food to your toddler and he or she refuses it, don’t give up! Toddlers are discovering their newfound autonomy and will often go through phases of refusing something “just because.” Continue to introduce a new food at least once a week – perhaps prepared a bit differently (see #2) – and you may find that your toddler eventually comes around. To put things into perspective, it can take 30-40 exposures to a certain food before a toddler will eat it!

Tip #2: Try the same food prepared a different way

If your toddler refuses a food once, try preparing it in a slightly different way the next time you serve it. For example, if your little one isn’t into mashed sweet potatoes, try serving them as fries with a “dip” the next time, or prepare the sweet potatoes with different spices. Toddlers are into novelty, so anything that’s “new” and “exciting” to them is more likely to be a hit. Flex your creativity muscles!

A toddler enjoying a healthy lunch.

Tip #3: Serve the new food with a food they already love

If you have a toddler, chances are he or she is obsessed with one food or another. Use this to your advantage and work a new food into the food he or she already loves! Ease into it slowly, baby steps are great. For example, if your child loves grilled cheese and you want to get him or her to eat carrots, try throwing a few grated carrots into the grilled cheese the next time you make it. Don’t go overboard, remember, baby steps! Once they eat the little bit of grated carrots in the grilled cheese, you can slowly increase the amount. When your child is into eating carrots this way, try next serving grated carrots on their own but covered with melty cheese. If this continues to be successful, slowly ease off of the cheese at each serving. Before you know it, your little one will likely be ready to eat grated carrots on their own.

Tip #4: Model the desired behavior

We all know it – kids at this age are little sponges! That’s why, if you’re trying to get your toddler to eat a wider variety of foods, it’s important that you lead by example. If you want your little one to eat broccoli, be sure they see you eating broccoli. If you want him or her to not think twice about eating a tomato, let them see you eating tomatoes. Your toddler will eventually want to mimic you!

Tip #5: Don’t react negatively if they don’t like something

If your toddler tastes something and doesn’t like it, or flat out refuses a new food, be sure not to have a negative reaction. Forcing a certain item or speaking negatively to your little one about food will only foster resentment and rebellion, and may also cause your child to grow up with a negative reaction (in general) to eating. The important thing is to continue introducing things and modeling the desired behavior, without worrying so much about your little one actually clearing his or her plate.

A mama and toddler giggling at each other after a delicious meal!

I know how challenging it can be to get your toddler to try new foods (speaking from experience), so I hope these tips were helpful to you and gave you the extra boost of confidence you need to get in the kitchen and whip up something new and exciting for your little one. If you’re stuck in a rut and need some ideas when it comes to new foods to introduce to your toddler, be sure to check out my favorites for 12- and 18-month olds, plus my post on Creative Baby and Toddler Lunch Ideas!

I’d love to hear how these strategies worked for you in the comments below, and don’t forget to click here to learn more about my Three New Foods Challenge if you’re looking for a little extra support and motivation! Xoxo

Your Ultimate Guide to Baby- and Toddler-Friendly Finger Food Recipes

This Ultimate Guide to Baby- and Toddler-Friendly Finger Food Recipes is your go-to resource when you’re looking for healthy recipes for your little one(s). It’s a comprehensive round-up that’s updated frequently, so you’ll never run out of ideas!

Title graphic for Your Ultimate Guide to Baby- and Toddler-Friendly Finger Food Recipes.

As a busy mom and entrepreneur, I know all too well the struggle to consistently have healthy meals and snacks on hand for our little ones. Heck, I even develop recipes for a living and still struggle with it! That’s why I’ve created this Ultimate Guide to Baby- and Toddler-Friendly Finger Food Recipes featuring creative, nutrient-packed recipes from some of my favorite mom bloggers.

This is a fantastic collection of both savory and sweet recipes that are easily portable and hand-held, because as moms I know we’re all about convenience. I will be updating this recipe collection regularly as I stumble across more great recipes, so be sure to keep checking back.

To start, I’ve broken the recipes down into two sections: Sweet and Savory. At this point, I hesitate to break them down further as I feel there are so many that can fit into multiple categories, but I’ll continue to break them down as I add more links if I feel it’s necessary.

If you like the looks of these and want more recipes ASAP, be sure to check out my e-book where I have 30 additional recipes that are all freezer-friendly.

Here’s my list so far!

SAVORY BABY- AND TODDLER-FRIENDLY FINGER FOOD RECIPES

Baked Butternut Squash Fritters with Parmesan
A stack of Butternut Squash Fritters on a plate. The perfect baby- and toddler-friendly snack!
by The Clever Meal
Breakfast Egg Muffins
Breakfast Egg Muffins are laid out on a table with a wholesome breakfast spread.
by Hungry Healthy Happy
Green Monster Crackers
Green Monster Crackers overflowing from a bowl. Another great snack for toddlers!
by Love in My Oven
Quinoa Frittata Muffins
A stack of Quinoa Frittata Muffins - a great baby-friendly finger food!
by My Kitchen Love
Mini Turkey Apple Meatloaf Muffins
A stack of three Turkey Apple Meatloaf Muffins - a great toddler-friendly snack!
by Haute & Healthy Living
No-Fry Crispy Quinoa Bites

by The Belly Rules the Mind

Cheesy Zucchini Tots
A plate of Cheesy Zucchini Tots with a side of dipping sauce is the perfect toddler-friendly finger food snack!
by Lemons and Zest
Baked Lentil Veggie Nuggets
A plate of Baked Lentil Veggie Nuggets - a healthy, baby-friendly finger food!
by This Healthy Kitchen

SWEET BABY- AND TODDLER-FRIENDLY FINGER FOOD RECIPES

Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Cookies
An overhead shot of a stack of Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Cookies on a wooden cutting board.
by CaliGirl Cooking
Mini Sweet Potato Muffins
A stack of Mini Sweet Potato Muffins next to a glass carafe of milk. A perfect finger food for babies or toddlers!
by Love in My Oven
Super Simple Pumpkin Carrot Muffins
These one-bowl Pumpkin Carrot Muffins are super simple to make, freezer-friendly and naturally sweetened. They're both adult and kid-friendly!
by CaliGirl Cooking
Banana Blueberry Fritters
Hands holding a plate of Banana and Blueberry Fritters - a great finger food for babies and toddlers!
by Healthy Little Foodies
Air Fryer Apple Chips
An overhead shot of a plate of Air Fryer Apple Chips - a fun snack for babies and toddlers!
by Recipes From a Pantry
Healthy Carrot Cake Pancakes
Make a batch of these Healthy Carrot Cake Pancakes the next time you do food prep and you'll have healthy kids' snacks for the rest of the week!
by CaliGirl Cooking

Do you have a favorite baby- and toddler-friendly finger food recipe?? Share it in the comments below and I may add it to this list!