toddler eats: cooking with apples!

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after coming home last week with 6 (six!!!) full bags of apples from our apple picking adventure in connecticut, i realized that despite my lack of creativity in the kitchen, i really should be able to do more than just an apple pie or apple crisp this fall for my family.  our friend kelsey nixon, who happens to be one very talented chef here in new york city, kindly showed me 4 fun and simple toddler friendly apple recipes! kelsey covers a breakfast, lunch, and dinner dish below plus the sweetest little dessert! i want her to just move into my kitchen permanently and whip this stuff up all the time, or better yet, maybe all of us can just move into her kitchen (because isn’t that space just gorgeous?) thank you again kelsey, and hope these might be helpful to a few of you as well!

Here is what Kelsey says:

One of the greatest things about early fall is apple picking. It’s become a tradition for many and if you’re like most families, you end up coming home with more apples than you know what to do with! You can only bake so many apple crisps and dip apple slices into peanut butter for so long before you end up staring at your heap of apples trying to not feel guilty that you might not get through them all! We’ve all been there. To make the most of your hand picked delicious apples, I’ve come up with a few recipes that include apples for every meal of the day (including dessert!). The best part is that everyone in the family will love these recipes – especially your toddlers!
Breakfast – Spiced Apple Pear Butter
As a parent of a toddler, I make a lot of toast! It’s a frequent request from my little guy and we particularly love spreading this rich and delicious apple butter on crispy toast or bagels in the morning. It’s similar to applesauce, but the biggest difference is that apple butter is cooked longer and slower than traditional applesauce which allows the sugar in the apples to caramelize, turning the apple butter a deep brown color. Not only does this produce a wonderful flavor, but the concentration of the sugar gives it a much longer shelf life making it a perfect spread to keep in your fridge to get you through the fall months. The best part is that this long and slow cooking process is done in your slow cooker, making it super easy! See the full recipe here.
Lunch – Grilled Apple, Bacon, Cheddar Sandwich
What kid or adult doesn’t love a warm grilled cheese sandwich for lunch?! This classic sandwich with a twist is the perfect combination of flavors – apple, cheddar, bacon, and mustard. It may sound a little crazy, but when all of that goodness ends up into between two slices of bread, you’ve got a match made in heaven. In way it’s like a grown up grilled cheese that still excites the kiddos! See the full recipe here or find it in my cookbook Kitchen Confidence
Dinner – Pork & Apple Meatballs over Buttered Egg Noodles
One of my favorite ways to incorporate apples with savory flavors is using pork – the sweet and rich flavors play really well with one another. My homemade meatballs were begging for a makeover and a grated tart apple seemed like a fun addition to the ground pork base. While these started out as an experiment, we quickly realized that they are terribly addicting in the best kind of way. Watch out or your toddler may just swipe the meatballs from your own plate! These were so easy to put together, a formal recipe isn’t even required. Simply combine 1 lb. ground pork, 1 tart apple (peeled and grated), 1/2 white onion (grated), 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, and 1 large egg in a mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix to combine but avoid over-mixing. Once combined, portion into golfball sized meatballs on a lined baking sheet. Transfer to an oven on low broil and bake for 8-10 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown on top. Serve over buttered egg noodles tossed with grated parmesan cheese and a little chopped parsley.
Dessert – Caramel Apple Bites
An entire caramel apple is definitely too much for a toddler to handle, but there’s something about the nostalgia of a caramel apple that’s fun to enjoy as a family. These itty bitty caramel apple bites are not only fun to eat, they’re also really fun to make! Pick out your largest apples and using a melon baller or a metal 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop out an apple ball from your big apple. A large apple should yield about 8 apple bites. You can use your favorite homemade caramel recipe or simply melt down the wrapped caramels that you find in stores this time of year to create a caramel sauce perfect for dipping. Insert a toothpick (with a dull end on the opposite side preferably) and dip your apple bites into the warm caramel sauce. Transfer the bites to a baking sheet lined with wax paper to cool before enjoying.
What’s your favorite unexpected way to incorporate apples into your cooking this time of year?
All photos by Kylie Whiting.
  1. I love the last photo…..that’s a face of pure joy….I have exactly the same face….when I see my dessert coming towards me in a restaurant! (although not nearly as cute!)

  2. Iva

    apple meat balls! sounds tasty!! thank you ladies for the great ideas!

  3. nanette

    oh man that apple butter looks amazing! i think i will have to add that to my fall to do list! thanks for the ideas!

  4. Wow! These all look and sound amazing. Especially the apple butter. I also went apple picking the other weekend and this post is exactly what I needed to read. Thanks for the wonderful recipes! Have a great weekend :)

  5. Hilary

    Apple, peanut butter, and bacon sandwiches are really good too!

  6. bridget

    those mini caramel bites! perfect – for toddlers and me. the apples are always too big!

  7. Excellent way of describing, and pleasant paragraph to get facts about my presentation topic, which i am
    going to convey in institution of higher education.

  8. Sinead

    I don’t have toddlers but I would definitely love to try all these recipes for myself! The apple and pear butter sounds especially delicious :-)

  9. Taylor

    Apple, cheese, and bacon sandwiches are my FAVORITE! They’re my go-to whenever I’m home for lunch. So yummy. I can’t wait to try out those little caramel apples!


  10. Viva

    Love these ideas! Makes me want to go apple picking this weekend, make some pies and those gorgeous caramel apple bites! What a brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing!


  11. what fantastic ideas! E and S will be happy, happy, happy!

  12. Hallie

    All of these recipes look SO GOOD. I’m going to try each and every one!

  13. Jennifer

    Baking apples and drizzling a cinnamon balsamic vinegar over them! You would never believe that they could taste soo good. Also any given recipe for homemade applesauce!

  14. Andy

    Those caramel apples look delicious!

  15. Ahh I love Kelsey Nixon, so cool you are friends with her! I love doing apple, brie and fig jam grilled cheese. It is YUM!

  16. Tammy

    Love this! Especially the caramel bites! Yum!!! :D

  17. marie

    Yummyyy I know my hubby and son will love the caramel apple bites!! ;) now if only I can set aside some time to create these delicious food at home… Haha.

  18. kelly

    yum, thanks for the recipes! i tried the grilled cheese for lunch today and it tasted awesome!

  19. The Spiced Apple Pear Butter looks scrumptious!

  20. Bea

    Great ideas!!!!
    6 bags are really a looot!!!!

  21. These are so cute! :) especially the caramel apple bites!


  22. Jordan

    I’m loving all these apple ideas, and I love that you post healthy recipes for toddlers! I just posted a recipe for “apple pizza” -or that’s what I call them on my blog. These are giving me so many more ideas-thanks!

  23. holy yum! i want to try all of them… in her kitchen… because it is gorgeous.

    now i gotta find a way to use all of these peaches.. they are taking over my kitchen!

  24. maria

    i saw this post this morning and just had the apple meatballs for dinner! they were sooooo good. love from spain

  25. Cathy

    These look amazing! :) Even for adults! ;)

  26. Kelly

    Oh my goodness, yum! I dont’ have kids and there are not any in my house this but these sound amazing! Big kid at heart!

    xx Kelly
    Sparkles and Shoes

  27. Vanessa

    Aw! I definitely read this earlier and went out to buy some apples! Thanks for sharing all of these items!

  28. Melanie

    So Fun! Kylie is me and my husband’s friend! Thats great she was able to get such wonderful photos. That whole family is so talented!
    -Melanie @

  29. My three children love apples! Thanks for all the great ideas.

  30. Holy wow! That sounds like a lot of apples. We are going picking on Sunday so I’m definitely going to use some of this info. for later.

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  32. apple bacon grilled cheese? yum!

  33. I seriously love apples. Damir and I are looking at a property in Slovenia (moving there soon!) that’s loaded with apple trees, so I’ll have to bookmark some of these recipes.

  34. ‘i love these recipes! I’m always looking for new ones and i cant wait to try these! I won’t be too judged to do these for myself even without the toddler would i? haha

  35. emily

    ahhhh i’m obsessed with apples. definitely saving this post. that apple butter on bagels looks 100% the most delicious

  36. Julia

    my name is Julia. I’m a student from Germany. I love your blog. You have such a beautiful family. I was living in the US for one year. Since that time I’m a huge fan of you, your blog and your family.The reason for that weird comment is, that I have a project about blogging in college. And I would like to write about your blog. Thats why I would like to ask you if you could answer me some questions.
    You probably have enough other things to do and I totally understand if you don’t want to email with a stranger :) I just thought it would give my project something special.
    I hope you will have a great day.
    Best wishes

  37. Ashley

    Those little caramel apples are so cute!! I bet that makes eat them so much easier!

  38. Jackie

    I was experimenting with fall foods a few years ago and came up with a brussels sprouts recipes with apple & bacon. It’s sweet and tart and savory all at the same time and it is a HIT.

  39. Joanna

    What great ideas!! My toddler is in love with apples right now. Did you use store-bought caramels or homemade sauce when you made the apple bites? I imagine store-bought caramels would set better around the apple, but I’d prefer trying this idea with homemade sauce. I might try making these and take them to our family’s Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, but I don’t want the caramel sauce dripping off the apples!

  40. Jaimey

    Thank you so much for these great ideas! I love Kelsey’s recipes and am very much in a rut when it comes to cooking for my toddler. Will you consider doing more “toddler eats” posts? I’d love that! :)

  41. Vlada

    Your posts are great!
    I’m the journalist of the ukrainian magazine – TheNorDar. I would like to make an interview with You. Is it possible?)
    I am looking forward to hearting your answer!)))

  42. Arica

    I love this post! Who doesn’t love apple recipes in the fall!? Even though I do not have kiddies, I think those mini caramel apple bites are a MUST!