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Busy Mom’s Guide: How to Sneak Nutrition into Your Kid’s Meals

Greta, our resident mom, writes about making small, healthier changes for her family that give big results. This week, she gives us some easy tips on how to sneak nutrition into your kid’s meals without sacrificing taste or wasting food.
 
As a busy mom of four young children and the daughter of busy parents of four kids, I’ve grown up and learned to live on homestyle foods that are delicious but not necessarily the healthiest choices. We have always depended on comfort foods such as meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, lasagna, and cheeseburger macaroni. I’ve never put a lot of emphasis on filling our plates with different colors (green broccoli, yellow squash, orange carrots, red tomatoes…you get the idea).

But last summer, I made a major lifestyle change for myself to try to lose the baby weight, and so far, I’ve lost a little more than 30 pounds.

I feel so much better now, physically and mentally. But the thing that I don’t enjoy about eating healthier is making separate meals for myself because the rest of my family doesn’t like what I’m eating. My kids are 6 years old and younger, and they’re pretty typical: picky and very selective on the fruits and vegetables they are willing to eat. They prefer cheeseburgers to steak, fish sticks to grilled tilapia, and unfortunately, they would eat cheese pizza every day if I gave it to them.

In order to ensure that I’m not cooking two separate dinners every night (one for me and one for them), I’ve had to get creative with the way I cook. These are a few of my tips for making meals that are healthier and still kid-friendly:

  • Substitute leaner meats. Use ground turkey instead of beef in meatloaf, meatballs, tacos. If you’re not crazy about the taste, add a little bit of ground sausage or beef to the turkey when you cook it, and season the dish as you normally would. Use pork ribs in place of beef. Marinate and roast boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and build a meal around them. (I love to cook mine in a slow cooker with barbecue sauce.)
  • Any sauce is an opportunity to hide “good for you” items: Add pureed vegetables to spaghetti sauce, on pizza, even in macaroni and cheese! If you want a more-convenient option, throw a couple of jars of baby food into spaghetti sauce, and nobody can tell the difference.
  • Find lower-fat and higher-fiber alternatives: This is easy for most dairy items: milk, yogurt, and cheeses.  Other alternatives are whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-wheat and multigrain breads.
  • Less meat, more beans: When you’re cooking soups/chilis/stews, load them up with extra beans, diced tomatoes, pureed pumpkin, even leftover mashed potatoes. You’ll need less meat and will have added nutrients.
  • Continue to experiment with new foods: It’s true that it takes more than one try for kids to get used to a new item. Try to add one new item with a couple of familiar things on their plate.

I am proof that it’s possible to make small changes to the way your family eats that lead to big results, without disrupting your eating habits or sacrificing convenience. Once I started using the MOMables lunch plans during the day and got on a healthier, less-processed routine for my children (we adults eat them too, just bigger portions), I knew I had to be consistent with the rest of our meals and not give up! Your family’s health is worth the extra effort.

What are some of the tricks you use to incorporate healthier items in your picky eaters’ meals?

 

Getting Back to School: How to Pack Fresh Lunches

Greta, our resident MOM, tells us how she’s been able to get herself and her family back in the routine of packing lunches after the holidays. Thank you, Greta, for sharing!

My oldest just started back into his second semester of kindergarten, and I think it was harder for me to get back into the routine than him! Thankfully, the easiest horse to get back on was packing his lunches.

Henry is 6 years old and a very picky eater. I didn’t used to think of him in that way until he started school and began bringing his lunch menus home. I knew, as soon as I read the first one, that he wouldn’t eat any of those lunches! His school gives the option of choosing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but he would be eating one every single day. He doesn’t like pasta very much; there are only a handful of fruits that he will eat. He’s not a fan of cheese and hates almost any vegetable. He’s a good eater, when given the foods that he likes (just like anyone else), but the number of foods that he likes isn’t terribly large. And he does NOT like to try new things.

Thank goodness, I discovered MOMables before the school year started. I had already decided that I would pack his lunches, but I had no idea how I would change things up from day to day. But, after seeing the first couple of weeks of MOMables™ menus, I knew I wouldn’t have a problem. Even if he didn’t like an ingredient or two, I could easily substitute something else. Honestly, the lunches are much better, fresher, and healthier than anything they have ever offered at his school.

Even when our lives get crazy, and I don’t have a lot of time to prepare for the following weeks’ lunches, I don’t get stressed out. Henry and I have figured out his go-to lunch item and that gets made by default (instead of a boring PB&J).

One of these go-to lunches is the Turkey and Swiss Pinwheel (see the recipe below). What I love about these pinwheels is that I can change the fillings to suit Henry’s tastes (or myself, as I often make one or two for my own lunch, too). Like I said before, Henry isn’t crazy about cheese; he’s a meat guy. So, I skip the Swiss, and vary the meats and condiments. One day, it’s a turkey and mustard roll-up, the next, it could be roast beef and low-fat cream cheese (my personal favorite).What I love about these wraps is that they’re super quick to whip up (as MOMables™ meals always are), and they can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge covered in a damp paper towel for a few days.

Turkey and Swiss Pinwheels
 
Author:
Cuisine: Lunch
Ingredients
  • 1 flour tortilla (whole-wheat or any variety)
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 2-3 slices deli turkey
  • 2 slices Swiss cheese
Instructions
  1. Lay the tortilla on a cutting board, and spread it with the mayonnaise. Lay the turkey slices, covering most of the tortilla. Lay the cheese slices over the turkey.
  2. Roll the tortilla from one end to the next.
  3. Cut the “roll” in half. Then cut in ½-inch-thick round sections. Serve with fresh fruit, veggies, and a snack or treat.
 

How to Store and Use Leftovers

Do you know how to use leftovers and store them for later?

How to store and use leftoversWhether it’s a large family gathering or a weekday meal, we often find ourselves with uneaten food. Have you ever found yourself not knowing what to do with it, or how long you can keep it before throwing it all out?

My husband doesn’t like to eat leftovers, so it’s up to me and the kids to finish them off, and I usually end up throwing out several containers at a time, long after they’re okay to eat. It’s wasteful, and costly. The smarter thing to do would be to save those leftovers and reuse them in different ways so my husband wouldn’t notice! Sneaky, I know.

In order to try to eliminate some of the wastefulness, save money, and prevent food borne illness, I’ve put together some “leftover guidelines,” compiled from eHow and What’s Cooking America.

  • Never leave food out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours from the time it’s cooked. It’s safer to cool it in the refrigerator than on the counter, so as soon as you’re done with the meal, put it away.
  • Leftovers containing meat should be used or thrown out within 3 days. Other foods will last up to 5 days in the fridge.
  • If you must store leftovers in the original pan or dish, cover them tightly with foil or plastic wrap. A better solution, though, is to divide the dish into smaller, shallow containers. They will cool faster, and you’ll be more likely to eat them or use them in another dish if they’re in individual servings. For example, pasta is an easy lunch to reheat the next day, if it’s already in a a grab-and-go portion size.
  • Try to switch up the meals made from leftovers. Turkey or chicken can easily be tossed into fajitas, wraps, quesadillas, even enchiladas. Ham is perfect for dicing up and cooking into a breakfast casserole. Rice is great for stir-fries or fried rice. Think outside of the box—you’re more likely to use up your food if you’re not eating the same thing over and over and over. Love Food, Hate Waste has a great recipe index for using leftovers of all kinds.
  • Don’t overload the fridge. Food needs to stay between 35 and 40 degrees F, and  packing too much in the fridge will inhibit the cool air from circulating effectively. Spread the containers out as much as you can.
  • Label everything! Write the date on the container or on a removable label so you never have to question how long it’s been in the refrigerator.
  • When you reheat the food, make sure you heat it to 165 degrees F, instead of just warming it up, and stir the food to ensure that it is all reaching the appropriate temperature. Leftover liquids, such as sauces, gravies, and soups should be brought to a boil before being eaten.
  • When you’ve had a chance to relax a little (or even before you cook your meal in the first place), plan what you’ll use the leftovers for. Having a meal plan ahead of time is the easiest way to make sure you eat the food instead of throwing it out.

My family OFTEN passes sicknesses to each other (especially between all of the kids), but unlike a cold or the flu virus, food poisoning is preventable! And hey, I’m a busy mom. The less food I need to buy, and the less I have to cook, the better.  Reusing leftovers can save us time and money!!

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