Sunday, September 15, 2013

Baked Ziti with Spinach....that kids like!

I do not like to sneak veggies into kids food. I like to take nutrient dense veggies that kids may not particularly care for and use them in a recipe in hopes they may gain a new appreciation for the veggie.

 I have gone through most of my life hating spinach but wanting to like spinach. As a kid, I wanted to like spinach because of course, it made you stronger...according to Popeye cartoons. As an adult I have wanted to like spinach because it is full of calcium, vitamins, fiber and lots of good thing for my body.

Many years ago I began a quest to find spinach I like. I have tried spinach so many ways....thanks to the many chefs I have worked with. I still do not like spinach as a stand alone vegetable but I found I like in mixed in with other foods.

With this in mind I set out to use spinach in many of the recipes I served to the children through the school lunch program, Yipson Foods. This Baked Ziti recipe proved that yes, kids will eat spinach. When we debut this on our menu approximately half the orders for the day were for Baked Ziti. We noticed as we were cleaning out the lunch bags for the day that the kids ate all or almost all of the Baked Ziti (including the spinach!). More importantly, the next time we served Baked Ziti on the menu over eighty percent of the kids ordered the Baked Ziti and again, they actually ate it!

This became one of our most requested recipes by parents. Enjoy!

Baked Ziti
Yield 6


8 oz. uncooked whole wheat ziti pasta
8 oz container sliced mushrooms, chopped (I use baby bella)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
9 oz package of spinach leaves
1 cup light ricotta cheese
2 cups Marinara Sauce, heated (My recipe is posted on the blog)
1 cup part skim shredded mozzarella
grated Parmesan, for topping
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1. Preheat oven to 375ยบ.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
3.  Meanwhile, coat a large skillet with olive oil and bring it to medium heat.
4.  Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes.
5.  Add mushrooms and garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes, until mushrooms are soft.
6.  Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.
7.  Remove skillet from heat and stir in ricotta cheese.
8.  Add mixture to the bowl with the cooked pasta, then add the marinara sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella. Stir well.
9. Transfer the mixture to an 8×8 baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray. Top with remaining mozzarella, plus some grated Parmesan.
10. Bake until hot and bubbly, 15-20 minutes.