Small changes make a big difference when it comes to good nutrition. Preparing nutritious kid-friendly meals really isn't hard or time-consuming once you know a few simple tricks. By merely switching an ingredient or two, you can add a little fiber, cut the total fat and saturated fat, or boost the vitamins and minerals in the familiar dishes your child loves.
Below you'll find some easy ways to make children's favorite foods even more healthful than they already are. There's no need to serve these versions all the time; merely offering them occasionally will help your toddler or preschooler learn about different foods and textures. The goal is to establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Plus, you'll be giving your child a head start on eating right to prevent heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis!
Lunch and Dinner Foods
Waffles. Whole-grain waffles have more fiber and nutrients than regular ones. Whether you choose frozen or homemade, look for those made with whole-wheat flour and other mixed-grain ingredients.
French toast. Every now and then make it with whole-wheat bread for a fiber boost.
Pancakes. Make homemade oatmeal pancakes occasionally instead of using a prepackaged mix or serving frozen pancakes. Oats are packed with heart-healthy fiber.
Syrup and jelly. Cut out some sugar calories and use light syrup. It has half the calories and sugar of regular syrup and tastes just as good. Even better, skip the syrup now and then and served chopped or mashed fresh fruit over pancakes and waffles. Eliminate unnecessary sugar calories with jelly as well and serve low-sugar or spreadable fruit versions of all jellies and jams.
Sausage and bacon. Put ham and Canadian bacon on the table instead of sausage and bacon. Both are extremely lean and you'll eliminate lots of calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Cereals. Even though kid-favorite cereals are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals, some may fall short when it comes to fiber. A couple times a week, serve a higher fiber whole-grain cereal to your child. Look for those with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
Juices. Any juice or juice drink that has added vitamin C is a good nutritional investment. Those fortified with vitamin C and calcium are even better.
Lunch and Dinner Foods
Macaroni and cheese. Make this dish from scratch with whole-wheat macaroni, fat-free or 1 percent milk, and reduced-fat cheeses. You'll increase whole-grain goodness and slash the fat and cholesterol considerably.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All nut butters, including peanut butter, are extremely rich in protein, heart-healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals. For variety, every now and then try cashew butter, soy-nut butter, or almond butter. Spread on whole-grain bread for more fiber and top with spreadable fruit jellies or those with less sugar.
Grilled cheese sandwich. Use whole-wheat bread and reduced-fat cheese. Spread the bread with light or reduced-fat margarine before cooking and coat the pan with vegetable cooking spray.
Pizza. You can trim the total fat and saturated fat by simply using a reduced-fat or light cheese. Instead of higher fat pepperoni and sausage, try the completely fat-free soy-based versions. Your kids will never know the difference! If you like making your own pizza crust, boost the fiber by using whole-wheat flour along with all-purpose flour. Or make mini-pizzas on whole-wheat English muffins.
Chicken nuggets. Look for oven-baked nuggets in the freezer case. They have so much less fat than the regular fried version of nuggets. Consider trying the meatless, soy-based, chicken-style nuggets as well. They're very low in fat, and most kids won't notice the switch.
Spaghetti and meatballs. Cook whole-wheat spaghetti instead of regular for a fiber and nutrient boost. If you're making homemade meatballs, use ground round or sirloin, ground turkey, or soy crumbles to cut saturated and total fat. Drain the fat off of the beef or turkey before adding other ingredients.
Hot dogs. Serve reduced-fat or light hot dogs instead of full-fat regular ones. Try soy veggie dogs, too — many are totally fat-free. Remember to cut hot dogs in narrow lengthwise strips to avoid choking for toddlers.
Tomato soup. Mix canned tomato soup with fat-free or 1 percent milk instead of water for a calcium kick.
Tacos and burritos. Use extremely lean ground beef — like ground round or ground sirloin — ground turkey, or soy crumbles. Mix the meat with a packet of lower sodium taco seasoning. Pile on reduced-fat or light shredded cheeses for a dose of calcium and top with lots of nutrient-rich chopped tomatoes. Instead of regular lettuce, chop or shred fresh spinach leaves — so much more vitamin A and fiber! For burritos, try whole-wheat flour tortillas occasionally and use reduced-fat or fat-free refried beans.
Potatoes. There's not a thing nutritionally wrong with white potatoes; they're packed with fiber and nutrients. Sweet potatoes and yams have even more vitamin A and fiber, however. Kids will love them with a pat of margarine and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar.
Potato chips. Save unnecessary fat and serve baked potato chips. Nearly all baked chips are low in fat, with just 3 grams fat per 1-ounce serving compared with a whopping 10 grams in regular potato chips. Or give your child soy crisps: They're lower in fat and contain heart-healthy soy protein. Dried apple chips are another healthful, tasty alternative — they have 6 grams of fat (less than regular potato chips) and 2 grams dietary fiber in every serving.