Working at WIC I talk with lots of parents whose kids often eat foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. Most of these foods are frozen, fast foods like hamburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries, or mac and cheese. While these are okay on occasion it is not recommended to have on a regular basis. This is because foods high in sugar, salt, and fat can increase weight, make it harder for kids to keep up with classmates, and increase chronic disease like diabetes.
I enjoy talking with parents about ways to transform these fast food favorites into healthier alternatives that both children and parents can agree on. The struggle I, and many other Nutritionists, face though is how to guide parents into behavioral change that is long lasting.
Some struggles parents and caretakers face are finding time to prepare healthy meals while working full time, kids who are picky eaters, and financial struggles that limit the foods that one can buy.
A few days ago I came across an article from the public health practice group affiliated with the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This article summarized a recent survey given to parents about whether or not they believed they were offering their children healthy foods. What saddened me about the article is that only “1 in 3 parents reported feeling like they’re teaching their kids healthy eating habits”.
For these reasons, I decided to share some tips that could help put healthier versions of kids favorites on the table without all the fuss.
1.) Swap out ingredients for healthier ones
For example, if a recipe for Mac & Cheese calls for enriched white pasta use whole wheat instead. Have someone with Celiac’s disease or a wheat sensitivity? Use a whole grain based pasta . Whole wheat & whole grain offer more fiber, nutrients, and iron than enriched or white pasta does.
2.) When you can, prepare ahead of time.
When making home made chicken nuggets a base bread crumb recipe can be prepared a head of time with the families favorite spices and stored in the cabinet for later use.
3.) Choose lean meats.
Instead of preparing hamburgers with ground beef try ground turkey or canned salmon instead. White meats or fish have less saturated fats than red meats & are a healthier alternative.
4.) Bake instead of fry.
When my clients tell me they fry their plantains I suggest they bake/broil it instead. This tip can be used for a lot of foods that are usually fried such as chicken nuggets, french fries, and hamburgers.
5.) Substitute or Add Vegetables
The other day I came across a Mac & Cheese recipe that incorporated squash! Adding veggies or substituting alternative ones can add fiber, vitamins, and minerals to foods that are traditionally high in calories and low in nutrients. This can also work for picky eaters. Other ideas can be sweet potato fries, kale chips, or baked carrots/parsnip fries.