5 Healthier Kid-Friendly Meals

By Sarah Haan and Stepfanie Romine, for BabyFit

Think about what is offered on a typical children's menu at a sit-down restaurant: burgers, fries, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets. When did these menu standards become "kid food," and why are we still conforming to the norm when we know it's unhealthy to constantly eat these dishes? Manufactured, artificial, added-sugar and packaged are just a few words that describe most of the foods our culture associates with children.

As a parent, it's your job to ensure your children receive adequate nutrition and develop healthy eating habits. This, however, can be tough when battling constant advertising, the media and common requests from the majority of our kids. Exposing your children to healthful meals is one of the most important things you can do to help them develop a healthy lifestyle. As adults, they'll be more likely to consume a variety of foods if new foods are routinely introduced at a young age. Research has shown that it can take 10 tries to get kids to eat a new food, so don't get discouraged. These meals are kids' menu favorites with a nutritious twist. The options are healthier--most have less fat and/or sugar--while packing more vitamins and minerals for your growing munchkins. These ideas should make the cut for both parents and kids. After all, who wants to make two meals every night?

Everyday chicken noodle soup can be transformed into a powerhouse of vitamins by adding a serving or two of vegetables. You're thinking you can already hear the complaints about the soup being "chunky," right? Well, your secret weapon to battle veggie woes is the blender. This handy appliance will be your new best friend when it comes to loading your favorite recipe with nutrients. To give your chicken soup a makeover, saute or steam chopped onions, carrots and celery, then give them a whirl in the blender with a bit of broth before adding it to the pot of chicken, broth and noodles. (You also can use this tactic with canned or boxed chicken soup.) Serve with whole-grain crackers in fun shapes.

The blender method can be used with many other dishes and vegetables. Try cooking cauliflower and broccoli and mixing them into the egg and low fat cottage or ricotta cheese mixture you use in lasagna. Zucchini can be grated, steamed and pureed into a mixture to add to a chicken and broccoli casserole.

In your next batch of macaroni and cheese , add cooked fresh or frozen pureed winter squash--think butternut or acorn squash. The texture and color resemble that of the cheesy dish while adding a serving of veggies. The possibilities are endless!

Aside from adding winter squash--or even cooked carrots--to macaroni, there are plenty of other ways to amp up this dish and make it more nutritious. To begin, making it from scratch with your children is a better alternative to the boxed variety. When cooking at home instead of getting takeout, you can use whole wheat pasta and control the amount of cheese and sodium added. After cooking the noodles and adding your choice of cheese, top the dish with your child's favorite lean meat. Grilled sliced chicken or ground turkey make great combinations. Experiment with finely chopped spinach, stewed tomatoes or chopped broccoli. If your little one is reluctant to try the new variation, make it into a game! It's amazing what a child will eat when it's the last food available on a deserted tropical island and resources are running out. The imagination can be a wonderful tool!

Instead of minced, processed chicken nuggets , patties and tenders, cut skinless chicken breasts into chunks then dip them in flour, egg whites and breadcrumbs. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Flavor your breadcrumbs to suit your mood. Add oregano, thyme, paprika, cumin or rosemary depending on your mood. Introducing herbs to children helps them expand their palates early on.

French fries are a commonly requested food among young people. Slicing and baking your own potatoes is a very good alternative to the deep-fried option. Experiment with different spices and potatoes. Russet, redskin, and sweet potatoes will all produce a different taste. Drizzle olive or canola oil over your potato slices once they're spread over a baking sheet and top with any combination of garlic, oregano, dill, rosemary, and pepper. For added vitamins and variety, choose sweet potatoes, butternut squash, even parsnips, turnips and other root vegetables. Roasting adds a sweetness that will make almost any vegetable appealing to kids. Offer ketchup for the kids to dip, and mix in some sweet chili paste or curry powder for some uniquely grown-up ketchup.

Hamburgers to go with the oven baked fries are a must for kids! Make your burgers at home using extra lean ground sirloin, turkey or chicken. These types of ground meat are going to be much lower in saturated fat than hamburger, ground chuck and ground round. If your kids are really adventurous, whip out your food processor and make some quick and easy homemade black bean burgers. It's a Mexican twist on the traditional hamburger and is fun to serve with baked fries or chips and salsa. This patty can be served on a bun, but your kids will enjoy it cut up with salsa, shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream, too. Mix one 14.5-ounce can of black beans with an egg and a 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. Add 1/4 cup chopped onion, a teaspoon of garlic powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin. Pulse in the food processor, then add form into four patties. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (flipping halfway through) or saute in a skillet over medium-high heat until crispy on the outside.

What are your go-to kid-friendly meals?

Related links:
Making Family Recipes Toddler-Friendly

Breakfast Cereal Scams

Convenient and Healthy Fast Food

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