Healthy or Not? How to Read Recipes Like a Dietitian.
Ensuring your child has a well-balanced diet can be an ongoing struggle. From snack time to mealtime, it’s a challenge to find healthy foods kids like to eat. And according to St. Louis Children’s Hospital dietitian Tara Todd, not all self-proclaimed healthy recipes are actually good for you. So what’s a parent to do?
“It’s important to know how to evaluate a recipe and recognize potential nutritional pitfalls,” says Todd. “Parents have to think like a dietitian before adding a new recipe to the mealtime repertoire.”
According to Todd, the same rules for reading labels apply to evaluating recipes.
“Beware of non-fat ingredients and sugar substitutes,” Todd says. “Watch out for recipes that call for a lot of non-fat or processed foods that may be high in sodium, such as canned soups, or margarines containing trans-fats. When it comes to baked goods, remember that baking is an art and a science, and you have to be careful about adjusting the ratios of fats and sugars. Many substitutions will alter the taste and feel of a dish, making picky eaters push their plates away.”
Here are some rules of thumb for substitutions to create healthier, kid-pleasing baked goods:
- Substitute applesauce or prune puree for half of the butter, shortening or oil.
- Use whole-wheat flour for half of the called-for all-purpose flour in baked goods. Keep in mind that whole-wheat pastry flour is less dense than regular whole-wheat flour and may be more appealing in softer products like cakes and muffins.
- For most baked goods, you can reduce the amount of sugar by half without drastically affecting the finished product. Another way to intensify sweetness is by adding vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon.
When it comes to making over a family favorite—like Grandma’s mac and cheese or Uncle Bob’s meatloaf—Todd says you may be better off leaving them as-is.
“With many traditional family recipes, you may want to stick with the existing ingredients rather than adding a lot of artificial ingredients and simply enjoy them in moderation,” says Todd.
There are a few things you can do to reduce calories and boost nutrition:
- For family favorite pasta recipes, start by switching to a whole grain noodle. There are products on the market that contain 50 percent whole wheat and 50 percent enriched wheat. These are a great place to start with your family as a difference in taste cannot be detected even by the pickiest palates! Gradually switch to 100 percent whole-wheat pastas.
- Use 95 percent lean ground beef and 2 percent cheese in meatloaves, spaghetti sauces or casseroles to lower the saturated fat content.
Whether you have toddlers or teenagers, the key to solid nutrition is eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
“Every family struggles with finding enough time to sit down and enjoy a meal together,” says Todd. “Look ahead each week to review work, school and activity schedules and plan meals accordingly. With a little knowledge and planning, parents can find truly healthy snacks and meals the whole family can enjoy.”
Click here for some quick and easy healthy recipes that are sure to please even the pickiest eaters.