Family Menu Makeovers

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 03, 2022

Healthy food for your family doesn't mean you eat nothing but salads and celery sticks. You have plenty of ways to transform your favorite dishes into healthier versions. Even kid foods like macaroni and cheese, pizza, and hot dogs can be somewhat wholesome with a few easy changes.

Add these fast fixes and family-friendly recipes to your mealtime routine.

5 Quick Makeovers

With a few ingredient swaps, you can slash calories and fat -- and add fiber and nutrients -- to some classic kid-favorites:

1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

  • Use 1 tablespoon of natural-style peanut butter.
  • Use 1 tablespoon of low-sugar grape jelly or an all-natural jam with NO sugar added.
  • Use whole wheat or whole-grain bread, or fiber-enriched white bread.

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 2 of fat-free or light sour cream, if it needs more creaminess.
  • Add veggies on the side or stir them in the macaroni (such as 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli per serving).

3. Hot dogs

  • Choose a frank with less fat.
  • Look for whole wheat or higher-fiber buns.
  • Top with peppers or tomato to boost the veggie power.
  • Choose lower-fat and lower-calorie condiments such as ketchup or mustard.

4. French fries

  • Choose lower-fat frozen French fries.
  • Bake them instead of frying.
  • Replace some of the fries on your kids' plates with a fruit and a vegetable.

5. Mexican dishes

  • Use low-fat Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese.
  • Use extra-lean meat (super-lean ground beef or ground sirloin, skinless chicken breast, lean pork trimmed of visible fat). Or use beans instead of meat.
  • Use fat-free or light sour cream.
  • Work in whole grains and vegetables (such as brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, tomatoes, green peppers, etc.).

2 Healthy Twists on Family Favorites

Your family won't even know they're eating healthier when they dig into these delicious dishes.

Easy French-Bread Pizza

This quick alternative to frozen pizza is easy for kids to put together. Then Mom or Dad can do the broiling.

2 French-bread sandwich rolls, split in half

Olive oil or canola cooking spray

1 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning

1/2 cup bottled pizza sauce or marinara sauce

3/4 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese

3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Optional vegetable toppings:

Chopped green peppers

Tomato slices

Zucchini slices

Mushroom slices

Artichoke hearts

Sliced olives

  • Preheat broiler.
  • Spray the tops of the French-bread roll halves with cooking spray, then sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top of each.
  • Broil the rolls until lightly brown on top.
  • Spread 1/8 cup pizza sauce over each half, then sprinkle 1/4 of the cheddar cheese and 1/4 of the mozzarella over each half.
  • Add your vegetables on top of the cheese.
  • Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly (about 2 minutes).

Makes 4 servings

Per serving (without the vegetable toppings): 189 calories, 12 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 6.5 g fat, 4.3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 430 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36%.

The Perfect Cheeseburger

Lower the fat and calories even more with ground turkey breast instead of beef.

1 pound super-lean ground beef or fresh ground sirloin

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Canola cooking spray

4 slices low-fat cheese

4 whole wheat hamburger buns

Lettuce leaves (optional)

Tomato and onion slices (optional)

Mustard and ketchup (optional)

Barbecue sauce (optional)

  • Divide the beef into 4 equal portions and shape them into burger patties. Sprinkle them with the pepper and garlic salt.
  • Pan-fry, broil, or grill the burgers, using canola cooking spray to keep them from sticking. When the burgers are almost cooked through, place the cheese slices on top and finish cooking (30 to 60 seconds). Remove the burgers to the serving plate. Cover the plate with foil to keep burgers warm and moist.
  • Dress your burger on the bun with the lettuce, sliced tomato and onion, mustard, barbecue sauce, and ketchup as desired.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving: 397 calories, 35.5 g protein, 34.5 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 86 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 767 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 29%.

Show Sources


Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2004 and July 2004.

Andrea Messina, lifestyle director for Parenting magazine.

Jessica Hastereiter, associate editor for American Girl magazine.

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