For the picky eater: Spaghetti squash with marinara, basil and cheese

When I was young, I wanted cheese on everything. I also loved starches. Cheesy french bread, lots of cheese on pasta, pizza topped with extra cheese, bagel topped with cheese and Cheeze-its were some of my favorites.

When I became a vegetarian at the age of 10, not much changed in my diet except the removal of meat and fish. While it's not a rule that vegetarians have to eat more veggies than the carnivore, it wasn't until mid college when I learned the nutritional value of veggies and that I should be eating them on a daily basis.

I transitioned myself to a very plant-strong diet around the age of 20 and I noticed a lot of great changes. While my focus wasn't on my body composition, I did notice a body composition change when I made a few dietary swaps and additions into my diet.
As the years went on and I transitioned myself from a competitive college swimmer to distance runner, I had to do some tweaking in my diet, once again, to make sure that I was eating enough to support the new demands that I was placing on to my body. I also incorporated sport nutrition (and better fueling before/after workouts) into my daily diet to support my new training regime (it didn't hurt that I was in graduate school and I was learning/researching all about exercise physiology and sport nutrition).
Then,when I transitioned from distance runner to endurance triathlete, I had to really make sure that I eating enough. It was a new daily diet to make the effort to eat a variety of foods to support my metabolic needs, to eat plenty of nutrient dense foods to keep my immune system healthy and to eat the right foods at the right times to ensure that I had energy for my workouts and that I recovered well from workouts.

For the parents out there, it's important to be a good role model for your children when it comes healthy eating. As a parent, your good behaviors around food support the development of good eating choices for your children.
Children learn as much from what you say as from what you do. While children may listen and repeat what you speak to them, children really pay attention to the way that you eat.

If you don't eat breakfast and simply rush out the door in the morning, your children will not see the importance of eating breakfast. They may even grow up with the tendency to rush out the door in the morning, simply because they assume that is how the day needs to be started.

More than anything, your attitude around food and your body is contagious and your children can easily pick up on your eating habits.

When you talk about good vs bad foods, children understand this concept. Although I don't have kids, I work with teenage/young athletes (ex. 12-18 years) on their diets/fueling and many of the kids that I speak with tell me about what foods are bad. When I ask why they term these foods bad, there's a list of reasons - explained by parents/teachers.

While it's great to teach your children to identify a healthy snack as a piece of fruit and a not-so-healthy snack as a candy bar, it's extremely important that you are careful with how you speak about foods....especially if you call a food (ex. sugar, carbohydrates and processed food) "bad" for you.

 Guiding your children to smart eating choices (foods that offer nutritional value) is important but it's equally important to encourage your children to diversify their food choices and to always have a great relationship with food (it's ok to have a treat or dessert!).

If you always use the word "bad" and have a category for what foods go into this subgroup of foods, your child may associate some type of shame or harm when he/she is presented with these foods and may see these foods as a never-eat food (this doesn't include foods which cause an allergy or need to be avoided for medical reasons).
While eating cake every day is not healthy, eating a small piece of cake at a birthday party is not "bad." If your child hears that cake is bad, he/she may feel extremely uncomfortable at events/parties because he/she shouldn't eat bad food.

I have the perfect dish to help your picky eater make smart decisions with food.
There are a few reasons why I selected the ingredients in this dish for the picky eater. For parents, this is a great role model dish to talk about food.

-Spaghetti squash is often termed low carb and is used as a replacement for pasta. Children should not be hearing about low carb diets or terming starches as bad. Instead of using the words "low carb" or saying "pasta is bad", let's have you talk about the vitamin C and B vitamins found in squash and why these nutrients are important for overall health (ex. vitamin C protects your immune system to reduce your risk for getting sick).

-Cheese is a fantastic source of calcium. But a little goes a long way. Talk to your kids about how cheese is made. Fun fact for your kids - did you know that aged cheese, like cheddar, Parmesan and swiss can be tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals? When your child explains lactose intolerant, explain that too!

-Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and when tomatoes are cooked, the bioavailability of lycopene increases. Lycopene is the carotenoid pigment that gives fruits and veggies a red color. It's a powerful antioxidant which can help reduce the risk for many diseases. Save the science talk to your kids and tell them that tomatoes have a lot of powerful nutrients to keep the body healthy. Lycopene is a great nutrient to improve eye sight which can help with reading.
Go the extra mile and instead of buying tomato sauce from the can/jar, make your own sauce with the help of your kids, and add in lots of chopped veggies for a vegetable-rich tomato sauce.

-Herbs, like basil, provide great flavor to food. They are also a lot of fun to grow as children can pick their own herbs from an at-home garden (how cool - you can make the food that you eat!). Herbs can give a nutritional boost to any meal. Did you know that basil has anti-inflammatory effects? Next time you have sore muscles, tell your kids that you are eating basil (instead of popping a pill) to help reduce the inflammation to you can feel strong again at your next workout.


While there's nothing extravagant about this dish, it's a great meal to talk about food. And really, that's what we should be doing when we eat. Talking about the goodness found in food - not terming food good or bad.
I hope it will please your picky eater.
This dish goes great with your choice of protein and a beautiful hearty salad....for those who aren't so picky and need more substance to a meal than just squash, marinara sauce and cheese. 

Spaghetti squash with marinara, basil and cheese

Small spaghetti squash
Marinara sauce
Fresh Basil
Shaved Parmesan 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a casserole dish with olive oil. 
2. Cut squash in half (lengthwise) from stem to tail and scrape out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
3. Place squash (cut side down) on casserole dish. Roast in oven for 30-45 minutes. 
4. Use fork to scrape out the flesh (to make "spaghetti") into the casserole dish. 
5. Spread the spaghetti on the dish along with another drizzle of olive oil. Mix together and then press down lightly.
6. Top the squash with marinara (spoon over) and spread chopped basil on top of marinara.
7. Bake for 10-15 minutes.
8. Top with cheese.