Kid-Friendly Penne Pasta Al Fresco

Kid-Friendly Meals Series | Penne Pasta Al Fresco

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I hope you’re loving this kid-friendly meal idea series so far! It’s been fun to think about the creative ways we get kids to eat food, but at the same time, sometimes you just want to make something that has a little more adult flavor, so my goal is to try to let both world’s collide and create some meal ideas that can be deconstructed in ways that kids will enjoy, while still being able to make food that makes you feel like you’re not having to sacrifice good food for those cute little demanding family members in our life.

The Pasta War

Anyone else have kids that would eat pasta everyday for the rest of their life and be totally fine with it? Just me?

I mean, I know where they get it from – there are days I could eat an entire bowl of pasta without thinking twice. I love pasta, but as I’ve gotten older, my body has decided to protest a huge bowl of it so I’ve had to get a little more creative on how I satisfy this love of noodles.

A recent finding I’ve had is brown rice pasta. I don’t eat 100% gluten-free, but I do like how I can eat a whole bowl of brown rice pasta and not feel completely bloated or overly full after. So, I was pretty excited when I found a brown rice pasta option for penne noodles so I could try it out with this recipe.

My honest review – I loved it. I couldn’t even tell I wasn’t eating traditional penne noodles! I will continue to experiment with brown rice pasta as time goes on because hits the spot without leaving me feeling like I need to take a nap or go into a food coma.

Penne Past Al Fresco

This Week’s Kid-Friendly Meal Idea

So naturally, as I was thinking of meal ideas to come up with, pasta was a must.

Since Spring is here, I’ve been more in the mood for a light pasta dish rather than a heavy pasta dish, so I decided to make a version of pasta al fresco in a way that all my family members would enjoy.

My kids love noodles… by itself… maybe with some butter on it, but that’s it. Since that’s not exactly my favorite way to eat noodles, this option lets everyone in the family decide which ingredients they want in their pasta and enjoy it to their own customization. 

I also loved the idea of allowing the kids to take ownership in creating their own meals, so when it was time to assemble our pasta dishes, I had this idea that they would each choose a little sausage, and peppers (my kids are obsessed with peppers), and I’d be able to make mine with all the goods. 

Spoiler alert – they didn’t want to mix anything with their noodles!! 

Haha! I had to tell you this because it felt like a little bit of a failure based on what my goals are for these meals. But, I made the best of it and instead, I had some extra uncooked peppers sliced up, which I let them eat on the side with their bland plain noodles.

That being said, we all ended up with meals we loved and I didn’t feel like I was stuck with plain noodles, and I wasn’t forcing them to try to eat noodles with veggies and sauce they didn’t want, which would have ended up in a dinner-time battle. So, from that perspective, I did feel like it was a winning experience. Maybe your kids will be more experimental with their ingredient choice. Please let me know! 

This recipe will remain a summer favorite for me, regardless if the kids choose to opt out of all the sauteed veggie goodness that I think makes this meal so good. 

I hope you enjoy this one and let me know how your family does with this mix & match concept! Did your kids go with plain noodles or add in a few ingredients? Comment below and let me know! 

 

Yield: Easily Feeds a Family of 4 (with leftovers)

Penna Pasta Al Fresco

Penna Pasta Al Fresco

This family favorite is perfect even for the most picky eaters. Everyone gets to make their own dish and decide what goes in and what stays out!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Main Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Ground Turkey Italian Sausage
  • 1 package of Brown Rice Penne Pasta (Gluten-Free)
  • 2 Tbsp. Cooking Oil of Choice (we go between EVOO and Avocado Oil)
  • 2 Bell Peppers - cut into 1/2 in squares (I used orange and red)
  • 1 package pre-sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 4 cups fresh spinach (or 1 small bag)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Parmesan cheese (for topping)

Instructions

  1. In a medium sauce pan, heat up 1 tbsp of oil of your choice and add ground Italian turkey sausage. Cook, stirring frequently until browned.
  2. Put paper towel on a plat and put the cooked sausage on the plate to soak up extra oil, and set aside.
  3. In a medium pot, boil water and cook penne noodles as directed on the box.
  4. While you're waiting for water to boil and noodles to cook, in a small sauce pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil and sautee peppers on medium high heat until slightly browned and soft. Once softened, place in a bowl and set aside.
  5. Using the same sauce pan, sautee cherry tomatoes until partially softened and add in mushrooms. Continue stirring frequently until al dente (slightly undercooked.)
  6. Add in spinach and cover until spinach softens. (this takes less than a minute - the juices from the tomatoes and mushrooms will help steam the spinach).
  7. Place vegetable mixture in a separate bowl and set aside.

For the sauce:

  1. Mix balsamic vinegar, oil and wine in small bowl and whisk with a fork until well mixed.

Assembly:

  1. Using the medium sauce pan that was used to cook the vegetables (do not use the sauce pan used to cook the sausage), add in 1 serving size amount of penne noodles and allow noodles to brown on the sides while stirring.
  2. Add in vegetables and meat of choice and sautee together for 3 minutes.
  3. Once warmed, add in sauce and continue to stir for an additional minute.
  4. Put in bowl and serve immediately.
  5. Repeat assembly process for each person, allowing them to choose which ingredients and amounts they would like to include with their noodles.
  6. Serve all dishes warm and top with Parmesan.

Notes

These instructions are created to allow each person eating the meal to choose which ingredients they would like to include with their dish. However, if everyone likes all the ingredients, or you have less picky eaters, you can sautee all the noodles with all the ingredients at once and serve in a large serving bowl - serve family style.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size:

4+

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 120 Total Fat: 4.5g Carbohydrates: 15.2g Protein: 4.2g
Nutrition information will vary depending on final ingredients used.

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Hi, I'm Jen.

Jen Wright | The Driven Mama

I’m a Nationally Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, Certified Cycle Instructor, and healthy lifestyle advocate living in Southwest Minneapolis, MN.

But most of all, I’m a mom who believes you shouldn’t have to suffer just so everyone else around you can thrive.

You deserve to feel your best, and I can help. 

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