My daughter eats macaroni and cheese for dinner... every freakin' night. If I dare sneak a vegetable onto her plate, she ignores the offensive morsel or, worse yet, throws it on the floor. And I know I'm not alone: Between kids' picky eating complexes and the fact that most moms don't the time of talent to whip up Martha Stewart-style meals, it can be hard to get kids to eat healthy. So we asked expert moms who are also nutritionists what they feed their kids for dinner, and why.
Prepare to be surprised -- and learn some great new ideas and recipes to try at home.
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What healthy meals do you feed your kids for dinner?
Image via © Heide Benser/Corbis; Image © KidStock/Blend Images/Corbis
Registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak says this recipe for BBQ chicken kebabs (from her new book Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide) is a hit with her two young boys. "The chicken is made with a simple rub from ingredients in the pantry and is a really quick, healthy, and kid-friendly alternative to nuggets," she says. "They gobble them up, right off the stick! The asparagus is sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and the French fries are frozen." Yes, dietitians use frozen food too -- fancy that!
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Katie Cavuto, a dietitian and nutritionist for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Flyers (any sports fans in da house?), says her son loves her cheesy farro with kale. "A great spin on the classic macaroni and cheese, this version uses whole foods, so it is nutrient dense," she explains. "By swapping dairy cheese and parmesan for lactose free cheddar shreds and grated parmesan, the flavor pops without the trans fat and cholesterol."
"This is one of my kids’ favorite dinners: veggie taco night," says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer. "I think one of the reasons they like this is because it’s interactive. I like it because it’s so easy to make. You can get dinner on the table in less than thirty minutes! Plus, it includes lots of fresh produce. I pile all of the fun taco choices on the table, and then I let each person build their own taco they way they like it."
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"Kids still want to eat what their friends are eating," concedes registered dietitian Ilyse Schapiro, mom of two elementary-school-age girls. "So to make a healthier pizza, I choose Whole Foods's 365 Organic Whole Wheat Crust. I love it because it has three grams of fiber and five grams of protein! We add Barilla roasted garlic sauce, which has another three grams of fiber. Finally top the pizza with some shredded low fat cheese. If your kids are adventurous eaters, you can put whatever veggie toppings you want as a bonus for vitamins and fiber. It's so easy and simple and cooks in about ten minutes. No waiting for the delivery man and it is so much healthier than pizza from a pizzeria."
"I love this recipe for peanut noodles with edamame because it is a one-dish recipe," says Diana Sugiuchi, RD, of Nourishfamily.com. "I use whole wheat noodles, peanut butter in the sauce, chopped peanuts and edamame for protein, so it is entirely vegetarian. Kids love it and if adults would like it spicier you can serve chopped fresh jalapenos on the side or add sriracha sauce. And if peanut allergies are an issue, you can substitute roasted shelled sunflower seeds for the peanuts and sunflower butter for the peanut butter."
Kimberly Marsh, a registered dietitian in Colorado, says her one-year-old daughter digs this beans and rice recipe. "This dish is a good choice for little kids who do not have all their teeth yet, as you can mash up the beans a bit to help them chew it; the texture of beans can also easier for young palates compared to meat," she explains. "Full of protein and fiber while low in fat, this dish also provides potassium and calcium, even more if you add a little grated cheese. It is also very flexible and can easily be adapted to what vegetables and spices you have on hand or prefer."
"I don’t rule out 'shortcut foods' like chicken or turkey sausages," admits Samantha Cassetty, RD, Director of Nutrition for the healthy food brand Luvo.com. "I also have a 'whole grain only' policy at home, so if we have a side dish, it’s something like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta. My ten-year-old son is also a big fan of roasted veggies; it brings out their natural sweetness. I make a game out of trying new things. Take peppers: I bought red, orange, and yellow ones and then we did a taste test to see what he liked best -- orange, in this case, but now he’ll eat all three varieties. The farmer’s market is filled with colorful produce, from purple carrots and potatoes to brown tomatoes, so I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from this."
"Enchilada casserole is an easy, make ahead meal for busy evenings," says Vandana Sheth, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian. To make: Layer tortillas alternately with pinto/black beans and sautéed vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, spinach). Finish with enchilada sauce, shredded cheese and sliced olives. "The enchilada casserole provides carbohydrates, protein and vegetables," she says. "Just add some fruit for dessert to complete this delicious meal."