Increase the odds that you and the kids will enjoy more nutritious foods with this master list of healthy sauces to use on vegetables, grains, fish, chicken, salads, as dips, and more.
One of my most frequent refrains is that if you want your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, you need to make sure that they taste REALLY yummy. And one of the best ways to do that is to have a few delicious healthy sauces and dips in your back pocket to turn to. This list will help you come up with healthy sauces for vegetables, proteins, and grains, and some dips to serve with your family’s favorite dippers.
Best Tips for Serving Healthy Sauces to Kids
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using sauces on food for kids:
- If mixing the sauce into the food, start with a small amount to give kids the chance to get used to the flavor.
- Try changing up how you offer foods, sometimes mixing the sauce in, sometimes offering it on the side as a dip—or letting the kids mix together their own serving. This can help the kids feel more in control of their food and potentially increase the likelihood that they’ll eat it.
- Use reduced-sodium soy sauce in Asian sauces to avoid excess salt, both for health reasons and since it can overpower flavor-wise.
- Remember that your child may not have had some of these flavors before, so give them a chance to try them out a few times before you decide they don’t like them. Repeated exposure often helps a lot!
Healthy Sauces for Vegetables
Many veggies taste great on their own, but they can taste so much better if topped, or served with, a sauce. These are my favorite sauces for vegetables for kids and parents a like.
HIDDEN VEGGIE CHEESE SAUCE: Yes, this sauce actually has vegetables in the sauce, but it’s also so good as a sauce or dip. It’s cheesy, but not overly rich, and it can be stirred into simple steamed veggies, spooned over potatoes, or served with pasta or grains. Try it with a new veggie or one that your kids don’t always go for!
EASY TERIYAKI SAUCE: With just a few ingredients that can perk up broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, snow peas, and really, any veggie that you’d think to stir-fry.
EASY PEANUT SAUCE: This sauce is one of my go-to toppings to dress up basic ingredients from broccoli to carrots, chicken to shrimp, and grains and noodles. It’s a simple stir-together sauce that even stores well in the fridge for days.
GREEK TZATZIKI SAUCE: With yogurt and cucumbers, this fresh sauce is a Greek staple—and is so good with sliced cucumbers, fresh carrots, and also breads and crackers like hummus.
CREAMY TAHINI DRESSING: With the earthy flavor of tahini that’s balanced by citrus, this is a nice flavor to introduce with veggies.
TAHINI YOGURT DIP: You can also mix the above tahini dressing with Greek yogurt for a thick and creamy dip!
SALSA: Any salsa, either chunky or pureed, can be a nice sauce for vegetables. Try a few kinds and see what your kids like!
Healthy Sauces for Pasta
Tossing pasta, no matter what kind you choose, with a healthy sauce is an easy way to get dinner on the table quickly. And when a sauce has vegetables and healthy ingredients in it, you can often keep the rest of the meal super simple. These are my go-tos.
VEGGIE_PACKED MARINARA: A bowl of pasta always goes over well with my kids, so I do my best to pack nutrition into the sauce to ensure they are getting a lot of the good stuff they need—even if they decide that they don’t want whatever side veggie I’ve made.
SPINACH PESTO: My family adores pasta (like so many families I know!) and this Spinach Pesto is one of our go-to sauces. I like it because the color stays bright green, the ingredients are straightforward, and it packs a serious punch of vitamins and iron from the spinach.
CAULIFLOWER CHEESE SAUCE : To make this recipe you’ll need pasta, cauliflower, cheddar cheese, milk, butter, and a pinch of garlic powder—and the cauliflower is tucked right into the creamy sauce!
SWEET POTATO PASTA SAUCE: Add an extra veggie into your next batch of tomato sauce with this easy recipe. Just roast the sweet potato ahead of time and it’s nearly ready!
MUSHROOM MEAT SAUCE: I have one kiddo who adores mushrooms, so I often add them to meat sauce as a simple way to up our veggie intake. My shortcut method? Brown 2 cups sliced mushrooms and 1 pound ground beef in olive oil until cooked, then add a 28-ounce jar of marinara sauce. Simmer on low for about 30 minutes and serve with pasta.
Healthy Sauces for Fish, Chicken and Beef
A basic and simple piece of fish, chicken or beef can be more enjoyable when paired with a delicious sauce of one kind or another. Here are a few of the ones that I love to pair with these proteins.
EASY TERIYAKI SAUCE: This is a favorite sauce for stir fried chicken or shrimp and veggies. It’s easy to make, is mild, and is yummy!
SOY CITRUS SAUCE: Pair this simple sauce with noodles and salmon or shrimp, or chicken, veggies and rice.
KALE PESTO: Sub baby kale in for spinach in this blender recipe and spoon over grilled, baked, or sauteed chicken for a simple, yet totally satisfying dinner. It also pairs well with salmon, white fish, and shrimp.
MARINARA SAUCE: Simmer chicken tenders or thighs in marinara until cooked through and serve shredded with pasta or on its own with simple sides for a healthy family dinner.
Healthy Sauces for Rice, Noodles, and Grains
Asian, Mexican, Italian, American…no matter what sort of flavors and cuisine that you’re craving, you can make a healthy sauce work for you when paired with grains. Think brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, quinoa, farro, and more!
HIDDEN VEGGIE CHEESE SAUCE: Toss this sauce with rice or quinoa for an easier-to-eat dish (since the grains stick together for little eaters!) with a veggie tucked right into the mix.
EASY TERIYAKI SAUCE: Try this with a stir fry over noodles, or just as a way to perk up leftover grains.
EASY PEANUT SAUCE: With short grain brown rice or quinoa, this peanut sauce is an instant flavor booster. (And it adds protein too!)
TIKKA MASALA SAUCE: We love these short-cut sauces from Maya Kaimal Foods for making our favorite Indian foods at home. A a little of the sauces go a long way in terms of introducing new flavors to kids.
GREEN CURRY SAUCE: Rich and just flavorful enough, this is a favorite with rice and veggies or a favorite fish or tofu.
Healthy Dips for Bread, Crackers, and Fruit
Some kids love to dip and serving yummy dips can be a simple way to help them enjoy more produce or whole grains. I love to pair dippers like veggies (fresh and raw), whole grain crackers and bread, and fruit with these dips.
COTTAGE CHEESE DIP: Simple ingredients and lots of protein make this super creamy dip a perfect pair for crackers, fruit and veggies like cucumbers and snap peas.
CARROT HUMMUS: Add veggies right into your next batch of hummus with this easy recipe.
CREAMY NUT-FREE HUMMUS: Make a nut-free hummus that’s mild and creamy with this recipe. Then, spread on bread or serve as a dip!
PEANUT BUTTER FRUIT DIP: Give the kids a protein-packed dip for their favorite dippers with this simple nut butter dip.
EASY GUACAMOLE: With just a few ingredients, you can make homemade guac for veggie dippers, either steamed or fresh. (Omit the peppers and/or onions as needed.)
HONEY YOGURT DIP: Stir a little honey into tangy plain yogurt and drizzle over roasted carrots, cauliflower, or broccoli. Or serve alongside steamed veggies.
MAPLE TAHINI SAUCE: Stir together equal parts of maple syrup and tahini for a simple sauce that’s delish with naturally sweet veggies like sweet potato and carrots.