I’ve never been the kind of mom who was caught sneaking veggies or whole grains into my childrens’ foods. They’ve been front and center on my kids’ plates since they were eating solids.
(Okay, I’ll confess that when I first fed them barley as a side dish, I may have mentioned that it was a kind of noodle called a barley noodle.)
Now, at 5 and 8, both of my children are excellent eaters. I believe that serving a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains at each meal taught my kids to be good eaters, and it enabled them to make healthy choices and try different foods each day.
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I’ll share a little secret of mine that I’ve honed over the years, though: I make easy, healthy substitutions in certain recipes, or for foods that my kids are drawn to that are either high in fat, refined sugar or sodium.
It’s easy enough–take out something that has either no nutritional value or is literally bad for you, and replace it with something that is good for you.
How I Got Started
Over the years, as I experimented with recipes, I have come up with some great substitutions. My children, Samara and Simon, don’t even miss the fat and sugar. If you start your kids out on the right track, they get used to tasting the actual food, without the added bad stuff that’s so unhealthy for them.
In fact, now my kids often find things too sweet or salty when they eat in restaurants.
Below are just a few of the substitutions that I’ve been using over the years. I also encourage you to try some of your own. Experimentation is key, and don’t be afraid if every substitution doesn’t work. Keep trying, and I promise you’ll have success.
You can even include your kids in the process. If your child loves yogurt, try brainstorming together about all the things you can put yogurt in. Your kid may love your famous cake that’s made with sour cream, but replace it with low-fat yogurt, and you’ve cut a huge amount of fat from the recipe while keeping the flavor and texture.
Here are five food substitutions that I use on a regular basis.
1. For Meatballs
Add cooked quinoa to meatballs or meatloaf mixture instead of bread crumbs. You’ll cut out the refined carbohydrates and replace them with a whole grain full of fiber and protein. Quinoa is also low in cholesterol and sodium, and is a great source of magnesium.
2. For Milkshakes
Instead of a milkshake for an after-school snack, try blending low-fat milk, a few tablespoons of peanut butter, a banana and some ice. You’ll cut out a ton of saturated fat and refined sugar in lieu of protein and fruit. For an added treat, you can make a chocolate peanut butter smoothie by adding a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa. The natural sweetness from a ripe banana goes a long way, and you’ll find the kids don’t even miss all that extra sugar.
3. For Veggie Soup
Instead of making cream-based vegetable soups, try this healthy substitution: Cover vegetables in water, low-fat milk or low-sodium stock. Add a few ounces of whole grain pasta and simmer until tender. (Don’t worry, the pasta amount added is so small it doesn’t need a lot of extra water to cook.) Puree and season to taste. You’ll cut out most of the saturated fat and calories by removing the cream, and you’ll be replacing it with fat-free whole grains full of protein and fiber.
4. For Corn on the Cob
Brush corn lightly with olive oil instead of butter to cut back on saturated fat. Then, sprinkle on about a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese instead of salt to cut sodium by more then half.
5. For Pumpkin or Zucchini Bread
Use only half of the oil called for in these quick breads and reduce the sugar by a few tablespoons, too. Then, use natural, unsweetened applesauce for the other half. You’ll cut the fat content in half and reduce the refined sugar as well.
Tell us–what are your favorite, healthy food substitutes?