Like every 4-year-old on the planet, my son alternates between stages of scarfing down everything in site and/or protesting via hunger strike when he decides he doesn’t want to eat what’s on his plate. The past few weeks, he’s been doing the latter–refusing to taste his dinner, which culminates in his eventually going to bed without eating a full meal (not my problem) but then waking up before the sun because he’s starving (my problem, indeed).

Our dinnertime rule is pretty straightforward: You don’t have to like what’s served, but you do have taste what’s on your plate before you decide that you don’t like it. And to reassure you that I’m not a mean mommy who starves her children, I always include things I know they’ll eat–some apple slices, cheese and crackers, whatever–so they don’t feel the “this is all you get” pressure. But alas, a few measly sides don’t sustain an active boy throughout the night. And with a newborn at home that awakens a handful of times for feeding, my sleeping until the sun rises is so very very precious.

Enter this dish. It has everything we both want in a meal. He likes that it’s spaghetti (and that I may or may not let him pick up strands with his fingers, tilt his head back, and open wide). I like that it’s a one pot meal that everyone can eat, that it’s packed with protein from the beans and noodles (I buy Barilla Protein Plus pasta, which is made with chickpea flour for added protein, and looks and tastes close to regular), and that it contains veggies that are shredded into such tiny pieces that they can’t help but cling to the noodles and become all but impossible to pick out.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Picky Eater Protein-Packed Spaghetti

Ingredients:

1 pound spaghetti (We like Barilla Protein Plus Spaghetti)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium zucchini or summer squash

1 can low sodium or organic small white beans, rinsed and drained*

1/2 cup shredded parmesan or romano cheese

juice of half lemon

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and pasta and cook pasta just shy of 1 minute al dente. Reserve the pasta water.

Meanwhile, shred zucchini  using a box grater (hint: hold the stem side to make it easier.) Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic to the pan. When garlic just starts to sizzle (but before it takes on any color), add shredded zucchini. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and saute for 8 to 10 minutes.

Add hot, drained pasta to the pan. Toss spaghetti with zucchini and garlic oil. Add cheese and toss pasta with tongs. If the pasta looks dry, add reserved pasta water (start with 1/4 cup and work up from there), tossing pasta as you go. Cook over the stove for 2 minutes more. Add lemon juice and serve.

A few notes on this recipe:

*When buying canned beans, always look for ones that are low sodium or organic, since regular ones contain tons of sodium.

*If your child doesn’t mind the “green things,” this dish would be made even better with the addition of fresh chopped herbs (basil, mint, parsley, or a combination of the three would work), tossed in right before serving. The same is true for lemon zest.