A simple mac and cheese recipe for babies, toddlers and kids! This stovetop mac and cheese is mixed with finely chopped kale for additional texture and nutrition. Perfect for baby led weaning and for babies and toddlers who are exploring new textures. Kale is a super healthy food for children and this cheesy, comforting pasta is the perfect introduction to it!
On a day to day basis, one of my biggest parenting wins is when I can get Odette to polish off a bowl of leafy greens. Kale, spinach, chard… frankly these are things that I wouldn’t touch until I was well into my 20’s. My little tot is 21 months, and I don’t know if and when she will enter a phase where she’s weary of the color green*, but for now, there are ways I have found to get her to eat her greens and love it. Incorporated into pasta sauces is one of them.
We had mixed success with kale pesto, but this kale mac and cheese has been a hit.
Now, I hope I don’t sound smug. Ha. This is not about “look how well my kid eats, look how much my kid likes vegetables”. Because she generally doesn’t. This girl will not touch broccoli, carrots, peas or any whole fruit except bananas. She throws strawberries back in my face. Strawberries.
Getting her to eat fruit and veggies takes a bit of work, but yes we do have these occasional slam dunks and that is why I share them so enthusiastically!
(*Update: The “nothing green” phase came for us around the age of four. I’ll let you know
if when it ends. So yeah, definitely feed them those greens while you can!)
Health Benefits of Kale for Babies, Toddlers + Kids
… Or, why I am so obsessed with adding kale to baby and toddler food.
- Kale is very nutrient dense. So. Many. Vitamins.
- It is a source of plant based iron. (Especially important for vegetarian tots!)
- Full of antioxidants.
- Lots of fiber.
Making Kale Mac & Cheese for Babies / Baby Led Weaning
Babies who are moving up to table food and feeding themselves will love playing with (and hopefully eating some of) this kale mac and cheese. It’s soft, creamy, and a little sticky. The sauce has some extra chewy texture from the kale, but chopped finely enough to be manageable.
Play around with pasta shapes depending on how well your baby can grasp and chew. You might choose fusilli or penne for babies without a pincer grasp (to suck on and gum down) or small macaroni or mini shells for babies with their pincer grasp.
Making Kale Mac & Cheese for Toddlers
If your toddler is learning to use their own utensils, try adding some shredded mozzarella to make this mac and cheese extra sticky – it will help them get it (and keep it) on the fork!
When serving to your toddler, you may want to add in a couple of their favorite veggie side dishes. Chopped cherry tomatoes, peas + corn mix, squash or roasted peppers would work great.
This is probably not likely to work for a pickier toddler who is wary of greens in general, because the kale is pretty loud and proud in here and the taste does come through.
However, those who just don’t like the usual texture of greens may respond well to this. The kale is chopped so finely it doesn’t overwhelm the mouth with the same tough chewiness it would if it were just sautéed or steamed.
So let’s Make Kale Mac & Cheese
To make this dish, you will sauté and chop some kale in a food processor. Then you will make an easy one pot mac and cheese and mix the kale into it. So although you’ll use two pans, I’ve kept it pretty easy for you!
Kale Mac & Cheese | For Babies, Toddlers + Kids
- 3.5 oz (100 g) Kale
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 2 cups (200 g) dry macaroni
- 2.5 cups (590 ml) whole milk
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 9 oz (250 g) grated cheddar cheese
- First, you’ll cook your kale. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add your garlic and kale, in batches, until it’s softened and wilted. Add a twist of lemon juice and then remove from the heat.
- In a food processor, pulse the kale until it’s chopped into tiny pieces.
- Now make the macaroni and cheese. Pour the macaroni and milk into a saucepan. Heat, stirring very frequently, until the milk begins to bubble. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Continue to stir at regular intervals. You may need to add more milk depending on how thick your macaroni is. If your macaroni isn’t cooked by the time your milk has cooked down, you’ll need to add more.
- Once the macaroni is cooked al dente, stir in the mustard and cheese until melted through. Assess the texture. If it’s too thick and sticky, add more milk to make it creamier.
- Finally, stir in the chopped kale.