Monday, May 17, 2010

Five Easy Ways to Boost Nutrition in Your Kid's Meals

Yesterday, I wrote about the macaroni and cheese that I destroyed with quinoa and butternut squash.  Well, "destroy" might not be the most accurate word, since I actually thought it was pretty good.  And my husband, who usually turns up his nose at anything healthy like quinoa, liked it too.

But my kids would most likely use the word "destroy."  And in a way they would be right, because even if it didn't taste bad, it did not taste like macaroni and cheese.  So today I'm sharing some of my more, um, successful attempts to feed my children healthier meals.

Consider the following list of foods that are nutritional powerhouses, yet are surprisingly easy to incorporate into some of your kid’s favorite meals.

1. Avocado.  This green, mushy fruit, which is nutrient dense, makes a great first food for babies, but it tends not to be a favorite with older children. So mash it up and mix it in! I’ve discovered that when a well-ripened avocado is mashed to a smooth consistency, mixed with refried beans, topped with cheese, and rolled in a tortilla, neither one of my children even notices that it’s there. You can also toss a piece of avocado into the blender with some chocolate ice cream, syrup, and milk for tasty but more nutritious version of a chocolate milkshake. (I know, I know.  I was doubtful at first too.  But I’ve actually tried it and you really can’t taste it.)

2. Wheat germ and flax seeds.  I keep a jar of toasted wheat germ and a box of ground flax seeds in my refrigerator at all times. Wheat germ is high in protein, and is an excellent source of iron, potassium, omega-3’s, and vitamin E.  Flax seeds are also high in omega-3’s, as well as fiber and a number of important antioxidants.  Why do I love these two so much?  Because they offer a super easy way to boost the nutrition of just about anything.  Stir a tablespoon or two into a bowl of oatmeal or your favorite prepared pancake mix.  Replace some of the bread crumbs in any recipe with either one.  Or use them as toppings for yogurt or applesauce.

3. Zucchini.  My kids are pretty good about eating their broccoli and green beans, but they’re not very adventurous when it comes to other green vegetables.  So, armed with a simple hand grater, I grate zucchini into a variety of their favorite foods.  Bland in flavor, grated zucchini makes an easy addition to muffins, meatloaf, or even their beloved chocolate chip pancakes.  (They could even see the green zucchini specks in the pancakes and they still gobbled them up!)

4. Spinach. Parents used to rely on Popeye to convince their little ones to eat their spinach, but most kid’s today have never heard of the classic cartoon character. Enter the smoothie. Toss a handful of spinach into the blender with some fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt or coconut milk, a splash of your favorite juice, a little honey, and some ice cubes. The combinations are endless, and may are so yummy that your kids won’t mind if they're green. Our family favorite is spinach, mango, and coconut milk!

5. Almond butter.  Most children like peanut butter, so almond butter often makes an easy alternative.    Almond butter has all the same health benefits as almonds, makes a great dip for apple or banana slices, and can be used any place you would usually use peanut butter.  AB&J anyone?

Like most moms, I’ve had my share of misses when it comes to trying to get my children to eat healthier.  But I keep trying.  Some days they eat really well; sometimes I still take them to McDonald's, even though I know that their food is a nutritional disaster.  Being a mom is like that.  You do the best you can with what you have and what you know, and then you move on to the next issue.  Who has time for anything else!

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