Cooking—much less cooking a healthy meal—is a task in itself, especially if you have to consider the varied tastes of parents and picky children. It can be nearly impossible to make everyone happy.
But with a few extra ingredients and a little creativity, it can be easier than you think. Here are a few of my favorite family-friendly dishes for which I’ve gotten rave reviews, from parents and kids alike.
For healthier french fries, slice potatoes thin, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, and bake on a foil-covered cookie sheet at 425°, tossing every 15 minutes to crisp evenly. After about 45 minutes, turn oven up to 450° for 5 minutes or until golden crispy brown (watch them carefully so they don’t burn!). Serve with organic ketchup, which typically doesn’t contain white sugar or corn syrup and won’t cause your blood sugar to spike and crash.
Cheesy whole grains
Another classic family meal—and a classic diet no-no—is mac ‘n’ cheese. But these days there are so many whole-grain pastas on the market in all shapes and sizes, and when paired with the right sauce, no one will know. Experiment with your favorite recipes by subbing in whole-wheat noodles. I like angel-hair DeBoles pasta because its thin texture makes it taste and feel similar to white pasta. Shred low-fat cheese—Organic Valley makes delicious, reduced fat options—over the top so that it melts beautifully and you can use less. (Don’t use fat-free: It’s like rubber and won’t melt!)
Take a cue from Jessica Seinfeld or Missy Chase Lapine and start sneaking more vegetables into familiar foods: Finely chopped or pureed peppers, tomatoes, or zucchini can be hidden in hamburgers, pizza sauce, or meatloaf, or added to sandwiches and quesadillas—I find that kids are less likely to complain about anything if there’s melted (low-fat) cheese on top! Even meatballs can be made over with a mixture of chopped veggies, turkey meat (use a blend of turkey and beef to help transition really picky eaters), and a healthy tomato sauce on top; look for brands like Amy’s Kitchen, which don’t list sugar at the beginning of the ingredient list. You can even puree a large batch of vegetables and add them to chili and Sloppy Joes, then freeze the rest until next time.
As a special treat, try re-creating this fast-food favorite with fewer calories and much less saturated fat: Dip chicken cutlets in egg whites, and coat them in whole-grain bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, dried parsley, paprika, garlic, or Parmesan cheese. Bake them on a cookie sheet with a nonstick spray until the breading is golden brown and crispy.
No matter what your family situation, it’s important to introduce picky eaters (slowly at first) to healthy foods—and to serve fresh, vibrant, and tasty dishes that prove that healthy can also be delicious. Obviously kids aren’t going to like vegetables if all they get is flavorless, overcooked mush! Learning to complement healthy ingredients—like produce and whole grains—with just enough olive oil, low-fat cheese, or salt and pepper is the first step toward feeding a healthier and happier family.