Parents are fighting back against childhood obesity, and are looking for healthy meal options for their children. Teaching kids to eat nutritious foods at a young age will help them develop healthy eating patterns for life, so more and more restaurants are offering kid-friendly dishes with a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. Today, most fast food chains offer fruit or yogurt as a side for their children’s meals so it’s important for full-service restaurants to make these changes as well.
Providing children with healthier dining options doesn’t mean that you need to reinvent your menu. Many popular kid-friendly dishes can be made healthier just by modifying a few of the ingredients or even changing the cooking methods. Spaghetti and meatballs is a favorite for most kids. The recipe below uses whole wheat pasta and meatballs that are baked instead of fried.
Old-Fashioned Spaghetti & Meatballs
1/3 cup bulgur
1/2 cup hot water
4 ounces lean ground beef
4 ounces hot Italian sausage
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat (see Tip)
Sauce & Spaghetti:
4 cups prepared marinara sauce
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves, or chopped fresh parsley
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or Romano cheese (1 ounce)
To prepare meatballs: Combine bulgur and water in a small bowl. Let stand until the bulgur is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a rack with cooking spray and place it over a baking sheet lined with foil.
Combine ground beef, sausage, onion, egg whites, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and the soaked bulgur in a large bowl; mix well. Form the mixture into 1-inch meatballs (about 24). Place the meatballs on the rack and bake for 25 minutes. Blot well with paper towel.
To prepare sauce & spaghetti: Put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil. Bring sauce to a simmer in a Dutch oven. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in basil (or parsley).
Meanwhile, cook spaghetti (or linguine) until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with the sauce and meatballs and serve with grated cheese. Serves 6.
Nutrition Per serving : 496 Calories; 8 g Fat; 3 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 28 mg Cholesterol; 86 g Carbohydrates; 27 g Protein; 18 g Fiber; 568 mg Sodium; 405 mg Potassium
4 1/2 Carbohydrate Serving
Exchanges: 5 starch, 3 vegetable, 1 1/2 medium-fat meat
Lean proteins such as chicken and fish offer a variety of health benefits to both adults and children. Chicken fingers are undoubtedly one of the most common items found on a kid’s menu, but these batter-dipped, deep-friend nuggets are often full of unwanted fillers and fat. Below is a healthier version of chicken tenders that are coated in a seasoned almond and whole-wheat flour crust and then baked in the oven.
Almond-Crusted Chicken Fingers
Canola oil cooking spray
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large egg whites
1 pound chicken tenders
Preheat oven to 475°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.
Place almonds, flour, paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until the almonds are finely chopped and the paprika is mixed throughout, about 1 minute. With the motor running, drizzle in oil; process until combined. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish.
Whisk egg whites in a second shallow dish. Add chicken tenders and turn to coat. Transfer each tender to the almond mixture; turn to coat evenly. (Discard any remaining egg white and almond mixture.) Place the tenders on the prepared rack and coat with cooking spray; turn and spray the other side.
Bake the chicken fingers until golden brown, crispy and no longer pink in the center, 20 to 25 minutes.
Nutrition Per serving : 174 Calories; 4 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 2 g Mono; 66 mg Cholesterol; 4 g Carbohydrates; 27 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 254 mg Sodium; 76 mg Potassium
Exchanges: 3 very lean meat, 1/2 fat
Macaroni and cheese is another dish that most kids won’t pass up. However, many recipes for macaroni and cheese call for butter, cream and processed cheese. You can easily lighten up this traditional favorite by substituting low-calorie and low-fat options for many of the ingredients. This dish can also be a great way to introduce more vegetables into your children’s menu. Most kids won’t mind eating broccoli or peas when they are incorporated into their favorite dish of cheesy goodness. Try this recipe below for a healthier version of good old fashioned macaroni and cheese.
No-Bake Macaroni & Cheese
8 ounces whole-wheat elbow noodles (2 cups)
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli
1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3/4 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for 4 minutes. Add frozen broccoli and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta and broccoli are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, heat 1 1/2 cups milk in another large pot over medium-high heat until just simmering. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl until combined. Add the flour mixture to the simmering milk; return to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted.
Drain the pasta and broccoli and add to the cheese sauce. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat, until heated through, about 1 minute. Serves 2.
Nutrition Per serving : 412 Calories; 13 g Fat; 7 g Sat; 1 g Mono; 37 mg Cholesterol; 56 g Carbohydrates; 22 g Protein; 7 g Fiber; 640 mg Sodium; 236 mg Potassium
3 Carbohydrate Serving
Exchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 reduced-fat milk, 1 high-fat meat