Spinach Pesto is one of the best ways that I’ve found to serve greens to my kids. It’s mild, easy to make, and is a super quick sauce for a family dinner of pasta with peas. This whole dinner comes together in about 20 minutes and has veggies and protein already in the mix so you don’t even need to serve anything with it!
Easy Spinach Pesto
Yes, spinach pesto is green, which might make some toddlers suspicious. BUT it pairs so well with favorite foods like pasta and pizza that it has a high chance of being accepted by the kids. Try this easy spinach pesto recipe the next time you’re running short on time but still want to serve up a healthy, yummy dinner for the whole family. (That’s pretty much every night, right?!) You can make the pesto sauce while the pasta cooks—simply put all the ingredients into the blender or food processor then simply stir it together with the pasta and peas.
Iron-Rich Foods for Toddlers
I admit that serving greens to kids straight up is often a hard sell. They can be tricky to chew, they often have strong flavors, and they’re not a very filling food so I think many kids don’t get much satisfaction from them. But, spinach is such a great source of Vitamin K, folate, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber that it’s a healthy food to incorporate into meals when we can. This spinach pesto, which is safe for both babies and toddlers, can make a plain bowl of pasta into a nutrient-rich dinner option that takes about the same time to make as boxed mac and cheese.
How to Make Spinach Pesto Step-by-Step
Making spinach pesto is super simple. Here’s a look at the process so you know what to expect.
- Gather the ingredients including spinach, olive oil, lemon, sunflower seeds, and Parmesan.
- Place everything into a blender.
- Blend! Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed or use the stick if your blender came with one.
- Use it on a favorite pasta or pizza recipe, or to make it into a dinner with pasta with peas, pull out your frozen peas.
- Place the frozen peas into the bottom of a colander. When it’s time to drain the pasta, pour it right over the peas. They’ll thaw almost instantly!
- Return the pasta and peas to the pot and stir in the pesto. Eat!
Can I make pesto nut-free?
Absolutely! I pretty much never buy pine nuts, which are the classic nut used in pesto, because they are really expensive. Instead, I use roasted sunflower seeds which have a nice toasted flavor, are super budget-friendly, and are easy to find at any grocery store. You can use almonds or cashews too if you prefer.
But wait! My toddler hates peas!
Fair enough! The beauty of this recipe is that you can use the pesto and the pasta and leave out the peas. You can sub in broccoli (toss it into the pasta water for the last 4 minutes while the pasta is cooking), diced zucchini (toss it into the pasta water for the last 2-3 minutes while the pasta is cooking, or leave out another veggie all together. There’s still a potent punch of nutrients in the pesto, so the peas can be optional.
Spinach Pesto Without Basil
Most of the time, I make this pesto recipe without basil and it’s so good. If you happen to have some basil or you like the flavor, add in a handful! You can also use half baby kale and half spinach, or all kale. It blends up nearly identically and my kids like it both ways. One of the best things about making pesto with spinach instead of pesto is that you don’t need to worry about it turning brown, even if you make it ahead and store it in the fridge!
Can I freeze this spinach pesto?
Yes! This spinach pesto freezes beautifully. I make a ton of spinach and kale pesto each summer and freeze it in zip top pint or quart size freezer bags in 1 cup portions. I flatten the bags and stack them and then they quickly defrost at room temperature whenever I need a quick and nutritious sauce for pasta. You can also break off a chunk and add it frozen right into whatever amount of pasta you make and as you stir it in, it will thaw. We also use the spinach pesto on pizza or in pizza rolls instead of pizza sauce!
What’s the best healthy pasta for my kids?
I serve this spinach pesto with all sorts of pasta, so you can pick your favorite. We rotate through many different types of pasta including Barilla Gluten-Free, Barilla whole grain, Banza chickpea pasta, the quinoa blend pasta from Trader Joe’s. My kids also love star pasta (from Target) and alphabet pasta, so that is a very frequent quick toddler meal in our house! This spinach pesto pasta also reheats really well, so it’s a regular toddler lunch too.Print
This bright green pesto is cheesy and mild, making it a perfect sauce for a quick dinner of pasta and peas!
- 1 pound pasta
- 4 cups lightly packed baby spinach
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds
- 2 cups frozen peas
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Place the peas into the colander (still frozen) and drain the pasta over the peas. The peas will thaw almost instantly. Return to the pot.
- Meanwhile, add the spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan, and seeds to a blender. Blend very well until very smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Season to taste with salt if needed. Toss with the pasta and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
The pesto can be stored in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer in a zip top storage bag (pressed flat and with as much air removed as possible) for up to 3 months. This is enough sauce for a pound of pasta. Use a little less if your pasta package is smaller and store the leftovers for another day.
To Use this Spinach Pesto as Pizza Sauce:
Simply spread the pesto onto prepared pizza crust and prepare as you normally would with regular tomato-based sauce. For a full size pizza, about 1/2 cup of pesto is usually the right amount. Adjust as needed.
To Make this into Kale Pesto:
Swap in baby kale or regular kale removed of the stems for the spinach. Make as directed.
To Make this Dairy-Free:
Omit the cheese and consider adding an extra 1/4 cup sunflower seeds. Add a little nutritional yeast for extra flavor if desired.