Health and Parenting

Raising Fit Kids: Food

Causes and Treatments for Your Children's Cough

mom and daughter eating dinner
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Revamping Your Recipe Box

Whether it's mac and cheese or meatloaf, some family recipes aren't that healthy. But with a few changes, you can lose some unhealthy fats, add fiber, and cut extra sugar that your family doesn't need -- without killing the taste. Start with small changes at first. Your family will be more likely to stick with them than if you do them all at once.

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chicken nuggets
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Chicken Nuggets

Give your family lean protein with no fillers and less fat with this easy, baked version. 

  • Pulse a couple of slices of toasted whole wheat bread, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and your favorite spices in the food processor. 
  • Dip chicken breast tenders in a beaten egg, then breadcrumbs. 
  • Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 350 F until golden brown.
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mac and cheese
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Mac and Cheese

Cut unhealthy saturated fat from this kid favorite by revamping your cheese sauce. Use low-fat cheese and 1% milk. Concerned about creaminess? Replace half of your shredded cheese with pureed low-fat cottage cheese or butternut squash.

Mix with whole-wheat pasta to make it healthier and more filling. There's also quinoa or brown rice pasta. If your kids aren't fans of whole grains, get them used to it by mixing it with regular pasta.

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vegetarian chili
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Trim the fat on this hearty dish by using lean ground beef or lean turkey. Or skip the meat and use a few types of beans and lots of vegetables.

Adding tomatoes, sauteed squash, peppers, and onions adds fiber and nutrition. Cut sodium by rinsing beans and using other seasonings instead of salt. Top it off with low-fat cheese and low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

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chicken pot pie
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Chicken Pot Pie

This comfort food can be a fat bomb if it's made with cream and a buttery crust. To slim it down, use:

  • Low-fat milk and only half the butter for the sauce
  • White-meat chicken with no skin
  • Lots of vegetables, like peas, carrots, and green beans
  • Only a top crust. Or skip crust altogether and top with mashed sweet potatoes instead.


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healthy taco
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Burritos and Tacos

Healthy eating on Mexican night is easy. Try to build burritos or tacos so they're at least half veggies:

  • Use medium whole wheat or corn tortillas or 6-inch shells.
  • Fill with 90% lean meat or fajita-style chicken.
  • Add fat-free refried beans or black or pinto beans for fiber.
  • Layer in veggies like peppers, tomatoes, corn, and shredded lettuce.
  • Top with 1/4 cup or less of low-fat shredded cheese or a few slices of avocado.


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veggie lasagna
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A few tweaks to your recipe can make this hearty Italian dish even healthier:

  • Use whole wheat noodles.
  • Use part-skim ricotta and low-fat mozzarella cheeses.
  • Add lots of vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and thawed, drained frozen spinach.
  • If you use meat, make sure it's at least 90% lean.
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If meatloaf is a family mainstay, change your ingredients a bit to lower the fat and boost fiber and vitamins. It's still filling and flavorful.

  • Use ground beef, turkey, or chicken that's at least 90% lean.
  • Make your own breadcrumbs using stale whole wheat bread, or replace breadcrumbs with quick-cooking oats.
  • Add chopped spinach, celery,onions, tomatoes, or grated carrots or zucchini to the mix.


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spaghetti and meatballs
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Start by experimenting with whole-grain and multigrain pastas. They taste just as light and tender as the standard versions.

Add shredded carrots, zucchini, or chopped spinach to tomato sauce for more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Bake -- don't fry -- golf ball-sized meatballs made with 90% lean ground beef and whole wheat breadcrumbs.

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brownie with raspberries
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Cookies and Brownies

Sweet treats are fine every now and then. Try making small brownies and serving them with fruit.

For cookies, sub out 1/3 of the flour with quick-cooking oats. It makes them healthier and adds a good texture.

In brownies replace half the oil with applesauce, yogurt, or fruit puree to reduce the fat and improve the nutrition. Ground flax seed can be used as a substitute for eggs as well as butter. Make smaller cookies. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 05/02/2021 Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD, FAAP on May 02, 2021


  1. JGI/Jamie Grill / Blend Images
  2. FoodCollection
  3. James And James / FoodPix
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  5. jabiru/ Kalium
  6. Ian O'Leary
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  8. Foodcollection
  9. Rita Maas / FoodPix
  10. Philippe Desenrck / Photolibrary


Karen Ansel, registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Jessica Crandall, registered dietitian, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Monica Reinagel, author, Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet, St. Martin's Griffin, 2011.
Julie Negrin, certified nutritionist; author, Easy Meals to Cook with Kids, AuthorHouse, 2010.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: "Recipe Makeovers: 5 Ways to Create Healthy Recipes."
The Ohio State University: "Make Better Choices for Healthier Chili."

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD, FAAP on May 02, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.