A change in diet can be tough for kids. Gradual changes can be effective, though, such as switching from regular to whole-grain pasta in stages. First add 1/4 cup of the healthier noodle and each time gradually add more, until eventually they’re eating the entire dish whole-grain style. The key is making the changes over time and not making a big deal about them.

When your children see you eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, they’ll follow your lead. Help your child develop healthy eating habits by setting an example. You’ll send a message that good health is important.

Find new ways to introduce healthy food. For example, try a small amount of broccoli mixed in with whole-grain macaroni and cheese. Sometimes cooking veggies in forms that kids are comfortable with can encourage them to try different vegetablesYou can add peas to pasta or even make a half cauliflower/half potato mash.

When your kids ask for candy and a soda, help them make better choices by stocking up on healthy snacks. 

Present new foods or healthy choices, but don’t force children to eat it. Ask what new foods they’re interested in trying and offer to make them. Get excited about their willingness to try them! Put a small portion of a new food on their plate and ask them to taste it. 

When everyone sits down together for meals, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Everyone develops good eating habits and the quality family time is an added bonus.

Food shouldn’t be a source of stress for your family. Get your kids to eat healthier by being creative and consistent. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference.

Involve your children in choosing and preparing meals. Take them to the grocery store to help shop. Children who are involved in cooking are more interested in eating what they’ve prepared.

Have them help put together a shopping list and give them fun, educational tasks. For example, you can tell them to count out six apples into a produce bag at the store.

They can rinse and chop vegetables, tear lettuce or stir the pot. My grandsons love putting the cheese on pizza dough.

Thinking about a weekly schedule may seem overwhelming, so start with two or three days at a time. Good dinners should be balanced with whole-grain bread, rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable and a lean protein or meat.

Make a game of reading food labels. Read books about food and explain where it comes from. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat.

Not So Healthy Food Choices

Hot Dogs

Since they’re filled with sodium, they zap water from kids’ bodies—and up children’s chances of dehydrating. Plus, they are loaded with saturated fat, which is a factor in causing heart disease, even for little people. Another reason to cut back on hot dogs: One study found that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month are significantly more likely to develop childhood leukemia.

Smart swap: Chicken apple sausages. They’re made with lean meat that’s lower in fat, calories and salt. The sausages also contain bits of real apple, which add a touch of sweetness that most kids love. There are now several healthy hot dog choices in the markets – just check the label for lower sodium and lower saturated fats. You will also want to avoid nitrates, such as the hot dogs made by Applegate. 

Pepperoni Pizza

One slice of pepperoni pizza packs nearly 300 calories and your little one may want seconds. This type of pizza includes lots of saturated fat and sodium, about 700 mg per piece. Kids need only 1,000 to 1,300 mg total per day.

Smart swap: Homemade veggie pizza on whole-grain crust. Besides being healthier, your child can pitch in with this cooking project, which wards off boredom. Just buy a premixed ball of whole-grain dough, low-sodium tomato or pizza sauce and vegetables your little one loves. You can also add skinless chicken breast, ham or lean hamburger for protein, which keeps kids fuller, longer and means less roaming around in the kitchen for a snack.

Ice Pops

Like soda, they come with empty calories that can cause weight gain. As refreshing as they might seem, they’re actually filled with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring and dyes.

Smart swap: Frozen fruit. Freeze cubes of watermelon. Watermelon has a high water content, so the result is a sweet treat that keeps kids hydrated. You can also freeze grapes (just don’t give them to children under four years old, as they can be a choking hazard), blueberries and orange slices are other tasty, nutritious options. Unsweetened fruit juice also makes great frozen pops.

Potato Chips

Not only can all of that sodium in chips cause dehydration, but it can also prompt kids to quench their thirst with sugary drinks. Plus, chips are high in fat.

Smart swap: Grilled corn. An ear of sweet corn on the cob is a good source of fiber. Fiber is important for kids year-round, but summer schedules mean kids get less of it and it’s necessary for optimum gastrointestinal health. How much fiber does your small fry need? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests: Children 1-3 years: 19 grams of fiber per day; Children 4-8 years: 25 grams of fiber per day; Boys 9-13 years: 31 grams of fiber per day; Girls 9-13 years: 26 grams of fiber per day. For a calcium boost on top of the fiber fix, roll an ear of grilled corn in a bit of shredded Cheddar or Parmesan cheese.

Sweet Drinks

What children drink can have a major effect on how many calories they consume and how much calcium they get to build strong bones. One research study found that every additional serving of a sugary drink a day increases a child’s risk for obesity by as much as 60%.

Smart swap: Water can’t be beat. Kids may be upping their liquid intake when they drink sugar-filled beverages, but they’re also consuming hundreds of extra empty calories. If your child finds H20 ho-hum, freeze berries into large ice cubes and float them in cups of water or add a splash of unsweetened fruit juice to their glass of ice water

Healthy Easy Kid Friendly Recipes

Snacks

Baked Mozzarella Bites

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 mozzarella bites and 1 tablespoon sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

  • 3 (1-ounce) sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese

  • 3 tablespoons egg substitute

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/4 cup marinara sauce (homemade or store bought- check label for sodium and sugar content and choose lower levels.)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup panko to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and place the panko in a shallow dish.

Cut mozzarella sticks into 1-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, dip cheese in egg substitute; dredge in panko. Place cheese on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese is softened and thoroughly heated.

Pour the marinara sauce into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, stirring after 30 seconds. Serve with mozzarella pieces.

Chocolate-Granola Apple Wedges

Serves 4 (serving size: 4 apple wedges)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 1/3 cup low-fat granola without raisins

  • 1 large apple, cut into 16 wedges

Directions:

Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring every 15 seconds, or until chocolate melts.

Place granola in a shallow dish. Dip apple wedges, skin side up, in chocolate; allow excess chocolate to drip back into bowl.

Dredge wedges in granola. Place wedges, chocolate side up, on a large plate. Refrigerate 5 minutes or until set.

 

Main Entrees

Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk

  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 frozen whole-grain round waffles, toasted

  • 6 ounces thinly sliced, lower-sodium deli chicken breast or home cooked and sliced thin

  • 4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella or mild cheddar cheese

  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices ripe tomato

  • 4 Boston lettuce leaves

Directions:

Combine mayonnaise and the next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl.

Spread mayonnaise mixture evenly over 4 waffles. Divide chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce evenly on the four coated waffles.

Top with remaining toasted waffles.

Individual Pizzas

Let your children assemble these pizzas.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough or homemade pizza dough

  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce

  • 4 individual mozzarella string cheeses

  • 8 black olive slices

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Divide pizza dough into four pieces. Stretch and roll out each piece into a 5-inch round.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce on each pizza round.

Peel string cheese into long, thin pieces and place on top of the the sauce,

Top each pizza with two black olive slices for the pizza eyes.

Or, let the children be creative and decorate the pizza as they wish.

Bake the pizzas for 12-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Cheesy Stuffed Shells

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed ground beef is a healthier choice) or ground turkey

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon Italian seaoning

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 1 10 oz pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1 box large pasta shells

Directions:

Prepare Meat Sauce:

Brown beef in a large saucepan. Drain on paper towels to remove fat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and saute onion and garlic.

Add tomato paste and Italian seasoning; cook for one minute. Return beef to the pan and add crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper. Simmer 30-40 minutes until thickened.

Prepare Filling:

Saute 1/2 cup onions and 2 minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add spinach and cook two minutes. Put mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

Combine cooled spinach mixture with mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese.

Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente, drain and set aside on clean kitchen towels.

Spoon filling into shells and place in a greased 9×13 inch baking pan.

Top with meat sauce and remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling.

 

Desserts

Frozen Pudding Pops

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant chocolate or chocolate fudge pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant banana cream, butterscotch, pistachio, vanilla or white chocolate pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 16 Small plastic cups (3 oz. bathroom size)

  • 16 Wooden popsicle sticks

Directions:

Place sixteen 3-ounce disposable plastic drink cups in a 13×9 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Put the chocolate pudding mix into a medium mixing bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons pudding into each cup. Cover cups with a piece of foil. Freeze for 1 hour.

Place desired second flavor pudding mix in another medium bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Remove pudding-filled cups from the freezer; uncover. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the second flavor of pudding over the frozen pudding in cups.

Recover each cup with the  foil. Make a small hole in the center of foil with the sharp knife. Push a wooden stick through the hole and into the top layer of pudding in the cup.

Put the baking pan in the freezer. Freeze for 4 to 6 hours or until pudding pops are firm. Remove from freezer. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Remove pudding pops from the cups to serve. Makes 16 pops.

Mini S’Mores

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 whole graham cracker squares

  • 16 tiny marshmallows

  • 1 ½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted*

  • 1 tablespoon white sprinkles

Directions:

Preheat the broiler. Using a serrated knife, cut each graham cracker into quarters (you will have 16 portions).

Place half of the crackers on a baking sheet and top each with a 2 tiny marshmallows. Broil 3 inches from the heat for just a few seconds until the marshmallows start to brown.

Remove and quickly top with remaining graham crackers. Dip one end into the melted chocolate, place on waxed paper and decorate the chocolate side with sprinkles.

Let stand until chocolate sets. Mini s’mores can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.

*To melt chocolate, place chopped chocolate in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat until melted.

 

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