Kids Healthy Food Meals: How to Balance To Keep It Healthy
This is a one of our “too busy to cook” summer evening meals: a piece of fried chicken from Acme supermarkets Monday night special: ($5.99 /8 pieces fried chicken), side of green beans with corn and coleslaw. The fried chicken is one of those less healthy food choices but you can balance out the dish with fresh options of vegetables and salad.
The Fried or Food Processed with Fresh Rule: Offer your kids healthier meal options on those “too busy to cook nights.”
Shh…I will tell you a secret. Even dietitians feed their kids ‘not top on the list for healthy’ foods sometimes. (Bravo to any parent or dietitian who can claim differently, but if you are like me and struggle with time, us dietitians do occasionally bring out the highly processed or fried foods like chicken nuggets, fish sticks, frozen pizza or whatever it is, as long as its fast and easy).
And why not? Convenience food is there to buy for convenience, n’est ce-pas? (In strict moderation of course).
But to balance these meals (and my guilt) I have a rule that I would like to share. I name it the Fried and Fresh Rule or Food Processed and Fresh Rule.
And it works like this:
Food Processed or Fried Main Course? Add a Fresh Side to Balance
Fried chicken to hot dogs, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, frozen pizza or boxed macaroni and cheese. These are some of the highly processed convenience foods that I have fed my kids for a fast lunch, dinner with the babysitter, too tired to think of cooking nights or just ‘why not’ meals. It happens more often than I like (ideally I would love to always serve my kids home cooked fresh meals, but I can’t/don’t!).
This is how I balance out these meals.
Healthy Food Meals for Kids: Add Splash of Fresh and Raw Fruit, Vegetable or Herbs
- Raw sweet onion, fresh herbs like basil, sliced red pepper, sliced ‘in season’ tomatoes. Be creative. There is no reason to order toppings on the pizza. Provide your own!
With a cheese omelet, why not some fresh tomato in place of hash browns? Offer these tomatoes and see what your kids think. (If the tomatoes are from New Jersey I promise they will eat them all up!)
Boxed Macaroni and Cheese. Is this another one of your kid’s favorites? Here it is served with sliced green pepper, tomatoes and cucumber.
(Hint-with boxed macaroni and cheese you can adapt the ingredients to make it healthier: cut the butter in half and add your own dried macaroni to cook with the macaroni given in the box. You get more servings without loss of taste).
Examples of kids less healthy meals: Fried +Fried +Fat
This is an example of a plate that needs healthy balancing. What would you take away and add instead?
Sometimes pepperoni pizza is an option, but plain pizza with all the fresh sides (see above) is an even healthier option.
Another example of a plate that needs some balancing, freshness and color.
Hotdogs are highly processed foods that need some ‘high powered’ nutrition freshness. Why not some carrot sticks in place of french fries?
Some fresh food ideas to use on your next ‘too busy to cook’ meal:
- half a grapefruit as a first course
- slices of fresh fruit (kids love exotic fruit like kiwi and pineapple) served with chicken nuggets or hotdogs
- slices of red, green or yellow peppers
- tomatoes! (cherry or slices)
- salad (even ready from a bag if you are in a real hurry!)
- carrot sticks
And what are your favorite fresh ideas that you can slice up in a flash?
How to do Fried or Food Processed and Fresh at the Restaurant
My big pet peeve at restaurants is the (usually) horrendous kiddie meals offered. Fried + Fat + Food Processed and very little Fresh. While eating out is a pleasure, it can also be an added pleasure by offering a fresh option as part of your child’s meal. What I have done at restaurants with my kids is:
- Not order the kid’s meals and have two of my kids split an adult meal.
- Order a couple of side dishes (side of vegetable, a side of a large meatball, a side of a bowl of pasta) that add up as the main dish.
- Order an appetizer that my child would like.
- Order the kid’s meals and ask for substitution if possible for something fresh.
Obviously, eating out should be an enjoyable experience and if your child wants grilled cheese and french fries (one of my kid’s favorites!) than that can be their choice. Some kids crave for something fresh and this should be honored and encouraged (especially from an early age).
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