Preparing healthy meals that also appeal to kids (and husbands) can be a real challenge. How do you make nutritious options that a picky toddler will eat?
To be honest, I’m not even 100% sure. My son is crazy picky. Picky to the point where we met with a nutritionist this past week to brainstorm some ideas. He’d be happy to eat crackers all day long if I let him. I try to keep his meals as healthy as I can, but sometimes I need to be a little creative. Here’s some tips for healthier meals I’ve found that work for us:
Listen, I get it. Rice is cheap and easy. It’s bland (so most kids will eat it). But it also has just about zero nutritional value. Luckily, there’s some easy swaps. If you haven’t yet, you should definitely jump on the quinoa train. While higher in calories than white rice, quinoa also has almost 5 times the protein and 4 times the fiber. My family is currently hooked on this recipe from Skinnytaste. Another great option is to try making cauliflower rice. Though it takes a bit more effort to create, your family will benefit from fewer calories and carbohydrates while getting more vitamin C and potassium. Here’s my favorite recipe. If you find you have to serve rice, at least make it brown- your family will benefit from the increased fiber and vitamin content.
Dairy/ Cream/ Butter
When I am going to serve my family a meal with dairy, I try to do two things- use low fat ingredients or just use less in general. For example, if my macaroni and cheese recipe (this is my go-to) calls for 1 cup of cheese, I’ll cut it to 3/4 of a cup, and a bit less butter and low-fat milk. I know there are two camps on this- full fat vs low fat dairy, and without going off on a tangent about the subject, I’ll just say that I personally choose to feed my family reduced calorie and fat options. Here’s a great article explaining both sides of the theory.
Another great option to make your dairy choices healthier- try plain greek yogurt! I’ve added it to soups and sauces (slowly so it doesn’t curdle) and replaced sour cream in many recipes.
If you’ve never tried swapping oil for unsweetened applesauce for baking, I definitely recommend it! I swap 1:1, but you can start with a blend, like swapping half of the oil for applesauce and then increasing as you get used to it. I’ll warn you- my husband thinks it makes anything I bake taste “healthier”, so the taste is different- but still moist and delicious!
Ground beef is so good- a cheeseburger is my favorite food of all time- but unfortunately, it’s typically loaded with saturated fat. Our family cooks 90% of our meals that call for ground beef using ground turkey or ground chicken breast. The other 10% are when we splurge on the real deal- but for the most part, I use a leaner white meat instead. Read the labels carefully, though! You’re looking for a leaner option here.
Here’s the thing… I’m Italian. My husband’s Italian. In college, he would make one pound of pasta and eat it in one sitting. He has said, more than once, that he could eat pasta every day from here on out and be happy. What’s the problem? Well, pasta isn’t exactly the greatest of choices at dinner time. Unfortunately for my husband, I only make it every once in awhile.
But, like I said, I’m Italian- which means many of my favorite meals revolve around pasta. I’ve had to get a little creative to make these meals healthier, but I’ve finally found a few options that work for us. First, we love spaghetti squash. I shared my love for it in this post here. Another option is making noodles out of zucchini. We have this spiralizer, but I’ve seen “the vegetti” floating around my local supermarket too. As for needing “real” pasta- I will occasionally cook with soba noodles or brown rice pasta instead of traditional pasta.
My favorite swap- throw some frozen banana slices in the blender, add a bit of milk or milk substitute if needed, and blend until creamy. Though not exactly like ice cream, it definitely is a great substitute for the real thing!
What are your favorite healthy swaps? Leave a comment below!
Note: The comments expressed in this post are the editor’s opinions. If you have any concerns, please contact a nutritionist or your doctor.