Classic Beef Lasagna
This post was sponsored by Beef Loving Texans/Texas Beef Council.
Years ago, at her 18 month check-up, we found out Jo was a bit anemic and I remember feeling like, “ughhh, here’s one more thing that is hard about motherhood!” After some experimenting, beef lasagna ended up being one of the iron-containing foods she readily accepted. My biggest barrier to feeding Jo beef was it seemed too tough and I feared she’d choke on it. However, I’ve now found if I cook beef in a slow cooker (so it is SUPER tender) or pulsing it in a food processor (to ensure small beef crumbles), it is a safe food for babies and toddlers. While Jo ended up anemic, Ella didn’t. I believe some of this is because I was more comfortable introducing a wide variety of foods, including beef, earlier to her.
This lasagna is made with beef crumbles that are pulsed in a food processor to ensure they are small enough for babies and toddlers, 6 months and up. Beef is a great option for babies and toddlers as it contains quality protein, iron, zinc and choline, which support growing bodies and healthy brain development. Additionally, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Women Infants and Children’s Program and now for the first time ever, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend introducing solid foods, like beef, to infants and toddlers, in order to offer kids food with the aforementioned protein, iron, zinc and choline (1-8).
The first time I tried a lasagna made with béchamel sauce I thought, “I’ve reached the top! There will never be another lasagna to make again!” I love the addition of a béchamel sauce into the cozy lasagna layers, even more than I like lasagna that’s made with a ricotta mixture. I’ve talked about béchamel sauce lasagnas numerous times, but have never gotten around to sharing the exact recipe I make. So, here it is!
Homemade lasagna takes time. But, I enjoy the process and lasagna is a messy enough dish that doesn’t call for perfection, so I like letting Jo help out with the layering process. It’s an activity and dinner rolled into one. There’s a lot of scooping that needs to happen and kids are capable of helping with this and can have fun with it. If kids are “helping” with the layering process, I find it easiest to prep all the ingredients into bowls and then have them only help me layer the lasagna together. The scooping of the beef sauce and the sprinkling (and mid-layering munching) of cheese are all great ways I’ve found to include my kids in the lasagna prep. For our family, I want food to be fun and taste good. I want to pass the mentality down to my children that food can be a source of pleasure and enjoyment in life. The layering process (it’s creative and fun!) and the taste of this lasagna (it’s good!) delivers on both of those fronts.
So here is our go-to lasagna recipe for our family. While I’m all for kids helping in the kitchen, nothing is a full-proof plan to have kids always eat what you make. I try not to hinge my sanity on kids who occasionally just lick a wall for no reason, but I know it’s hard to sit back and look on as your kids refuse to eat. We stick with the mentality of: we (as parents) provide, they (as kids) decide what and how much they want to eat. We also always offer at least one food item that we know the girls are familiar with and like. For this meal, we paired the beef lasagna with green beans and garlic bread. Andrew and I are regularly having conversations about feeding the girls and figuring out what works well. Lately Jo has responded well to us asking her, “hey, could you try a bite of that and let me know if you like it?” That approach isn’t in-line with an Ellyn Satter approach to feeding kids (which I prescribe to a lot of!), but what a blessing to get to raise your kids as you see best and pivot as necessary. If asking Jo that question seemed to build anxiety or pressure in her, we’d stop asking it. But so far it’s kept the mood light and fun and she gets to tell us if she likes that food or not and it leaves her autonomy strong. Sometimes, dinner is a complete and total whine fest with kids, but this meal *typically* goes over pretty smoothly in our house and is enjoyed by all. If you make it, I hope you enjoy!
Classic Beef Lasagna
Yield: Makes two 9”x13” lasagnas (one for now and one for the freezer for a week you don’t feel like cooking)
18 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese
16 ounces freshly grated, good-quality, parmesan cheese
2 pounds ground beef
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 large bell pepper, chopped
32 ounces canned tomato sauce
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
12 ounces canned tomato paste
1 heaping tbsp Italian seasonings
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 stick (8 tbsp) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 tsp salt
In a LARGE skillet or dutch oven, brown ground beef. While browning, chop it into little pieces with a wooden spatula. Once browned, scoop out the ground beef into the bowl of a food processor. For the skillet with the oil, turn off the heat and just let it hang out for a second. Pulse the beef crumbles 4-5 times until all are small, see the above picture for the crumble size I aim for. Scoop crumbles into a bowl. Set aside.
Return the oil to medium heat and add in the garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the other vegetables: onions, spinach, and bell pepper. Stir occasionally for 5 minutes. We’re just looking for the vegetables to get softened here. Remove from heat and add them to the empty food processor. Pulse until the veggies are nearly pureed.
Pour your nearly pureed veggies mixture into the large skillet and add in the remaining red sauce ingredients: tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, Italian seasonings, dried basil, salt and pepper. Stir all together. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While red sauce is simmering, make your béchamel sauce. Add butter to a large dutch oven and cook over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir in the flour. Then gradually whisk in the milk, stirring constantly and being sure to scrap the bottom of the pot so no flour gets stuck to the bottom and burns. Stir in the salt. Stir over medium heat until the sauce thickens, about 5-7 minutes. Turn off heat.
To the red sauce, add in your beef crumbles.
Layering time! Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 2, 9”x13” dishes with non-stick spray. Add a layer of red sauce to the bottom, then a layer of your no-boil noodles, followed by dollops of béchamel, mozzarella and parmesan. Be sure the no-boil noodles are completely covered in something, otherwise they may not get soft. Repeat layering until ingredients run out. I typically do 3 layers. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and allow to cook 6 more minutes, or until the top cheese layer is nice and bubbly. For the last minute of cooking I like to turn on my broiler to really crisp up the top. Allow the lasagna to cool 20 minutes before serving. We eat one lasagna immediately and throughout that week and the other lasagna, after it has cooled, I wrap tightly in foil and put it in the freezer to eat sometime in the next 2 months.
Quicker version: Instead of making homemade red sauce, buy jarred marinara sauce and add your browned ground beef to that.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 7th ed. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014.
- Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
- Schwarzenberg SJ, et al. Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics 2018;141:e20173716.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. https://www.fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170208/nutrients
- American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Starting-Solid-Foods.aspx
- American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/growing-healthy/Pages/assessment.aspx
- USDA WIC Works Resource System. Infant Nutrition and Feeding Guide. https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/Infant_Nutrition_and_Feeding_Guide.pdf
- USDA WIC Works Resource System. Starting Solid Foods Handout https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/resources/starting-solid-foods