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Mommy Makeovers: Lighten Kids' Favorite Foods

Try these healthier versions of family favorites

Transforming Kids Favorite Foods

What do macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and pizza have in common? They're "kid foods," of course. I don't know how it happens, but somewhere between making them their first peanut-butter-and jelly sandwich and taking them to their first play date where they're introduced to macaroni and cheese (from the box), we find ourselves fixing "kid foods" for the family meals at least some of the time.

To get your family started on the road to healthy eating, I did a few "mommy makeovers" to lighten dishes that moms go out of their way to make because our kids love them. By making a few ingredient adjustments, you can transform them into healthier options for kids and grownups alike.

I had my suspicions about what these foods were, but I wanted some professional advice. So I asked a few editors of food or parenting publications what they thought. Then I did a "mommy makeover" on one dish/recipe from each editor's list. (I noted these with an *; see the recipes below.)

Andrea Messina, lifestyle director for Parenting magazine, is convinced that kids like things buttery, cheesy, or fried. She puts pizza*, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, and French fries at the top of the popularity chart.

According to Syd Carter, an editor with AllRecipes.com, parents who visit the recipe web site have noted that their kids loved:

  • Fajitas
  • Kabobs
  • Smoothies
  • Pot roast
  • Banana bread*
  • All things Mexican

Jessica Hastereiter, associate editor for American Girl magazine, encourages parents to turn food preparation into a craft, where kids get to put the finishing touches on themselves. Some kid-friendly foods she mentioned were pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers*, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.

5 Quick Makeovers

Just by making a few ingredient adjustments, we can make many of these favorite kid foods lower in calories and fat and higher in fiber and nutrients. Here are five quick examples:

1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

  • Use 1 tablespoon of natural-style peanut butter.
  • Use 1 tablespoon of less-sugar grape jelly (such as Smucker's Low Sugar).
  • Use whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, or fiber-enriched white bread.

BEFORE: 335 calories, 10.9 g fat, 2.1 g saturated fat, 2.5 g fiber
AFTER: 290 calories, 10.9 g fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 5.5 g fiber
SAVINGS: 45 calories saved, plus 3 grams of fiber added!

2. Macaroni and cheese from the box

  • Use 2 tablespoons of no-trans-fat margarine (choose one with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon) instead of 4 tablespoons of butter.
  • Use low-fat milk instead of whole milk.
  • Add a tablespoon or two of fat-free or light sour cream, if needed for creaminess.
  • Add veggies on the side or in the macaroni (such as 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli per serving).

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