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Here’s a baby and toddler friendly twist on a classic Korean dish, japchae!  Made with colorful vegetables, meat, and gluten free sweet potato noodles, this low-sodium version is sure to be a hit with the entire family!

japchae plated in a big white bowl and a baby portion served in a smaller white bowl
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What is Japchae?

Japchae is Korean sweet potato noodles, or “dangmyeon“, stir-fried with an assortment of colorful vegetables and meat. It is one of the most iconic Korean dishes, and when I see a huge plate of japchae, it conjures up so many memories from all the past special occasions and holidays. That’s because for us Koreans, no gathering and celebration is complete without japchae!

I’m not trying to brag here (or maybe I am!), but growing up,  my mom was notorious in our community as the best japchae maker, and I will forever associate this dish with her “special” touch. 

Korean cooking is so mysterious and magical, I find. Sure, you can follow a recipe to the T. But it will taste different depending on who made it! There’s actually a term for this, and it’s called “sohn mat,” literally translated the “taste of the hand.”

I wish I had my mom’s sohn mat but I shall have to settle with what I’ve got ;).

What makes this dish baby and toddler friendly?

Traditionally, japchae is high in sodium. The sauce/marinade for japchae uses a lot of soy sauce and the individual vegetables are normally seasoned with salt. Because the sweet potato noodles have a very neutral flavor, this is necessary for the average adult palate.

However, this is not very ideal for babies whose kidneys are not able to handle a lot of salt at this time.

So I sought out to tackle the challenge of achieving maximum flavor with minimal use of sodium-rich ingredients so that not only your baby, but the rest of the family can enjoy together! Family meals. That’s always my goal!

Now, I have a TON of tips and suggestions to share with you so PLEASE don’t skip this part! Absolutely read this before making the dish.

Expert Tips

a four image collage showing onion, carrots, bell peppers, and beef cooking individually in a pan
  • Cut all the ingredients into thinly sliced/julienned strips. I love to use my mandolin for this as it makes the process go super quick.
  • Cook each ingredient separately to take into consideration the different cooking times and to prevent colors from bleeding into one another. By doing so, the flavor, texture, and color of each ingredient will be maintained and shine through when the dish is enjoyed as a whole. 
  • A simple tip on how to make vegetables super soft if making this to enjoy with your baby (don’t need to do this for toddlers or older children): when cooking them in a pan, add a small splash of water and cook for a couple of minutes. Depending on how thinly you sliced the vegetables, you may or may not need to cover the pan with a lid. What this does is create a mini steaming effect. 
  • Marinate the beef in my soy sauce-free bulgogi sauce. This will not only enhance the flavor of the beef and the dish as a whole but once cooked, it will leave behind all this yummy, flavorful juice. Don’t toss it! 
  • Cook the noodles last! Normally, the noodles are prepared first, tossed in a soy-based sauce to keep them from sticking together (and for flavor), and set aside. But what I’ve found is waiting until the very end to cook the noodles and adding to the pan to soak up all the leftover juice from the beef helps to achieve a soft, chewy texture.
japchae cut into small strands for baby with a baby spoon
  • The last step is to toss all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl by hand. Then set aside a portion for your baby and chop everything with scissors so that you get tiny pieces.
  • To the rest of the mixture, add the sauce. Season to taste. You can certainly add more soy sauce and/or sesame seeds if you wish. 
You can find a cooking demo in my Instagram stories (under “Asian Food”). It will help you to understand how to incorporate all these tips into the cooking process.

Ingredient Suggestions

thinly sliced onion, red bell peppers, an carrots on a white plate

While I kept it really simple by using just carrots, red bell peppers, onion, and bulgogi, you can absolutely add whatever vegetables you’d like. J

apchae literally means “mixture of vegetables” so invite all kinds of delicious, colorful vegetables to the party. Traditionally, spinach is added, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of blanching the spinach. Do what you can! 

How to cook the noodles

four image collage showing the noodles boiling, getting rinsed in water, chopped with scissors

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the package directions, 6-8 minutes. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and cut the noodles into shorter strands.

These sweet potato starch noodles are great not only for stir-frys but also soups and stews!

Now, some will argue that you shouldn’t cook the noodles. Instead, they should be soaked in hot water for 20 minutes or so. My mom would agree.

However, since this recipe is geared towards babies and toddlers, I’ve found that boiling the noodles results in a softer consistency. You can give it a try and see which method you prefer! 

How to serve leftovers

a close up shot of the plate baby-friendly japchae on a white plate

Once you put the noodles in the fridge, the starch in the noodles will harden. Reheat in the microwave for a couple of minutes (mixing in between) .This ensures they don’t get too mushy.

Did you make this baby and toddler-friendly Japchae, or Korean Sweet Potato Noodles? Follow me on Instagram post a photo and tag me, post a photo on my Facebook page, or save it to Pinterest. I love to see what you’re making! 

a close up shot of vegetarian japchae plated on a white plate with wooden chopsticks

If interested in a meatless version, check out my vegetarian japchae. Keep in mind, this recipe is not baby-friendly but will be great for older children and adults.

Recipe

5 from 9 votes

Kid-friendly Japchae

Here’s a baby and toddler friendly twist on a classic Korean dish, japchae!  Made with colorful vegetables, meat, and gluten free sweet potato starch noodles, this low-sodium version is sure to be a hit with the entire family!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Beef marinating time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 8 people
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Ingredients 

  • 4 ounces lean beef, marinated in bulgogi sauce
  • 1 medium carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, julienned
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil for stir frying
  • 6 ounces Korean sweet potato starch noodles

Sauce

  • 1.5 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar or honey (no honey for babies younger than 1 year old)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds

Instructions 

  • Marinate beef – 30 minutes for ground beef, at least 3 hours for thinly sliced beef
  • Cut the veggies as thinly as possible to make it easy and safe for young children. I love to use a mandolin for this as it cuts down the prep time significantly!
  • In a small bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients. Set aside.
  • Add 1 tsp sesame oil to a non-stick pan. Swirl to coat. Cook the onion over medium heat until it softens, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  • Add 1 tsp sesame oil to the pan and cook the carrots over medium high heat for about 1-2 minutes. If cooking for baby, add a tablespoon or so of water and continue cooking until they get nice and soft, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the same bowl with the onion.
  • Add 1 tsp sesame oil to the pan and cook the bell peppers over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, until softened. Depending on how thinly sliced they were, you may or may not have to add water as suggested with carrots. Transfer to the mixing bowl.
  • To the pan, add the marinated meat (no oil necessary) and cook over medium heat until it's no longer pick, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the mixing bowl. Keep the beef juice in the pan!
  • Cook the noodles. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the noodles and cook for 6-8 minutes. Rinse in cold water and drain. Cut the noodles with kitchen scissors into short strands.
  • Reheat the meat juice in the pan. Add the noodles to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent and sticky, 2-3 minutes.
  • Transfer to the large mixing bowl with all the rest of the ingredients. Toss everything together with hand. Set aside a portion for the baby. To the rest, add the sauce. Adjust seasoning to your taste. You can always add more soy sauce and sesame oil.

Notes

Be sure to read all the tips listed in this post before cooking! For a cooking demo, head on over to my instagram – kidfriendly.meals and click on “Asian Food” in story highlights. 
I’m including the most important ones here:
  • A simple tip on how to make vegetables super soft if making this to enjoy with your baby (don’t need to do this for toddlers or older children): when cooking them in a pan, add a small splash of water and cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Leftovers. Once you put the noodles in the fridge, the starch in the noodles will harden. Reheat in the microwave for a couple of minutes (mixing in between) .

Nutrition

Calories: 136.46kcal | Protein: 3.6g | Sodium: 115.61mg | Fiber: 1.09g | Sugar: 2.33g
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

About Min

Thank you so much for stopping by! I am Min, a Registered Dietitian, a Christ follower, a wife, and a mom to our two miracle babies! Currently, I’m having a ton of fun feeding their tummies and sharing our baby led weaning journey! Follow me on Instagram if interested in seeing daily menu as well as tips and tricks.

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10 Comments

  1. So yummy!!! Do you think if I use tofu rather than marinated beef, it would still taste good? Or bland?

  2. 5 stars
    I made this with leftover baby friendly bulgogi and it tasted so yummy! Love your Asian BLW recipes, they make eating together with our baby so much easier.