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Healthy Family-Friendly Meals

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How often does your family ask you: “What’s for dinner?” Here are some great ideas for traditional family favorites simply with a healthy makeover. Instead of being a short-order cook, follow these guidelines to help you prepare nutritious, delicious dinners everyone will enjoy.

Macaroni and cheese: Every kid and adult can appreciate a comforting bowl of macaroni and cheese. To make a healthier version, use whole-wheat macaroni instead of traditional white-flour noodles. Avoid packaged cheese sauces; you can create your own using reduced-fat cheddar cheese, whole-wheat flour, and trans-fat-free margarine (vegetable-oil spread). To add color and fiber to the dish, include chopped veggies, such as broccoli, red bell peppers, and green beans.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes: With a few substitutions, this homey favorite can be turned into a healthier dish. Choose lean ground beef or ground turkey breast and add fresh and/or dried herbs like parsley, chives, and basil to it. Serve the meatloaf with a mélange of sautéed veggies, like onions, bell peppers, and zucchini, along with a cauliflower mash instead of white mashed potatoes. You can also add whole-wheat bread crumbs to the meat or poultry mixture and serve with mashed sweet potatoes. I like to add wheat germ, rather than bread crumbs, with a tablespoon of ground flaxseed meal, into the mixture.

Burger and Fries: Give this favorite combo a healthy makeover by using lean ground sirloin, turkey breast, or chicken breast to create the burger. You can pass on the bun and serve the burger with celery or sweet potato fries baked in the oven, adding a dash of paprika or cayenne to boost flavor. I have used this substitute many times and, found my children did not miss the original! If you need the bun, try using a whole-wheat one, whole-wheat pita, or a whole-wheat English muffin.

Cheese Pizza: Hands down, pizza is the all-around family favorite. Instead of heading to your local pizzeria, though, prepare pizza at home using healthier ingredients. Choose a premade whole-wheat-flour crust, a whole-wheat tortilla, or whole-wheat pita instead of a traditional white-flour crust. The local supermarkets stock many Kosher varieties today. Top with no-sugar-added tomato sauce, shredded reduced-fat cheese, freshly cut veggies like red bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms, if desired. My vegetarian customers enjoy using a portobello mushroom cap as the “crust.”

TIP: When buying a larger package of shredded mozzarella, mix into it a tablespoon of cornstarch and store in a container in the freezer. You will have cheese to prepare an instant pizza whenever you want, since the cornstarch (which is tasteless), prevents the cheeses from sticking together! It will stay fresh for three months.

Four high-fiber breakfast kids will like

1. Sprinkle buttered whole-wheat bread with sugar and cinnamon.
2. Top a bowl of oatmeal with a piece of chocolate.
3. Combine their favorite sweetened sugar cereal with bran or other high-fiber cereal or flaxseed meal.
4. Instead of butter, spread a mashed avocado on toast.

Have children help you make a special cookie or snack recipe they can bring to school – it will encourage them to eat better. These snacks will arrive at their destination unbroken, intact, providing you store them in a small airtight, snack cup size container.

Mix and Match Energy Bars

Serves: 18

Ingredients

2 cups cereal, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup roasted unsalted nuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dried fruit, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup second nut or fruit
1/3 cup brown sugar, sugar, honey, or Agave syrup
1/2 tsp salt 2 egg whites, large
1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract, optional

Instructions

Heat oven to 300°F.
Line 9″ x 9″ baking pan with foil.
Oil and flour the foil. (An 8″ x 8″ pan can be used. Just bake 5 to 10 additional minutes.)
Mix cereal, nuts, fruit, flour, and an extra, if using, in large bowl.
Combine sugar and salt in small bowl. Whisk in egg whites and extract, if using. Pour mixture into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Pat into the prepared pan with moist hands or plastic wrap.
Bake until bars are dry to the touch, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on ingredients used. Cool completely.

Need a little inspiration? Try these tempting combos: Granola, cashews, strawberries, poppy seeds. Wheat flakes, pistachios, mangoes, wheat germ. Puffed rice, pistachios, pears, chocolate chips. Rice flakes, hazelnuts, figs, apricots. Wheat flakes, almonds, peaches, raisins. Granola, peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips.

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