Healthy, quick-to-the-table meals kids will love

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
  • Thursday, February 13, 2014 6:36pm
  • Life

This time of year, I would predict that most parents are resolving to improve the family’s eating habits. It’s an on-going battle we all face in these busy times: avoiding drive-through cuisine, yet hating the at-home alternatives that add another level of chaos in the kitchen.

For those of you seeking practical guidance that’s been developed and time-tested by genuine professionals, you need to jump onto a wonderful website: Meal Make Over Moms — healthy meals with kid appeal ( Since 2004, with the publication of their first book, “The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers, Improving the Way your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time,” ($15.95) authors Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss, have been helping families eat better.

With a begging-your-pardon to all you cooking dads, these two cooking moms bring hefty credentials to the dinner table. For starters, both are registered dieticians. Bissex is a former dietitian for the U.S. Senate and has consulted for restaurants and food companies. Weiss is an award-winning television journalist who has covered health and nutrition stories for PBS and CNN.

Bissex, the mother of two girls, and Weiss, the mother of two boys, understand the daily challenges parents face when mealtime rolls around. That’s why their recipes are all “mom tested and kid approved,” and their mealtime tips are realistic and practical.

They begin with a five-step plan to make healthy eating a natural and enjoyable part of everyday life — even in the midst of your chaotic schedule:

Start somewhere. Add one extra serving of fruit each day.

Market good nutrition to your kids. Tout carrots as yummy, not medicine.

Establish food rules. Make them specific, reasonable, and enforceable.

Streamline time in the kitchen. Maximize timesaving tools and tactics.

Eat together as a family. And turn off the TV during dinner.

Beyond that, Bissex and Weiss offer friendly-yet-practical advice, lots of encouragement and a winning repertoire of kid-tested recipes. Based on the goal of getting kids to come to the table with a happy face, the authors have taken popular family favorites like spaghetti and meatballs, chili, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and chocolate chip cookies and given them a nutrition makeover.

Their criteria are simple, say the authors: “Weave super nutrition into each recipe … making it healthier than the original, maintaining or improving the flavor, and speeding up the prep and cook time whenever possible.”

Throughout their books and website newsletters (A nine year archive of great reading!), the authors have woven layers of encouragement and support, stressing that cooks shouldn’t feel guilty when they fall back on convenience and fast foods.

In that vein, they offer a roundup of the best tasting and most nutritious convenience foods on the market (all kid-tested), plus quick-fix tips for revving up the good nutrition with mix-ins, toppings, and side dishes.

Their website also provides a virtual smorgasbord of helpful tools for consumers: cooking videos and a monthly e-newsletter, an award-winning blog, “Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen,” and a radio podcast, “Cooking with the Moms.” There are even recommendations for re-stocking the pantry, refrigerator and freezer with the most healthful cooking oils, canned soups, peanut butter, ketchup, dry pasta, salsa, low-fat dairy products, eggs, cold cuts, frozen veggies, and more.

A sampling of things you’ll learn on their website and in their books:

Homemade chicken nuggets take just minutes to prepare and contain three times the protein of most commercial brands.

Adding a can of black beans to your favorite beef taco recipe doubles the fiber.

Cookies made with canola or olive oil can taste just as good, if not better, than those made with butter (but you may have to adjust the recipe).

In 1936, Kraft Macaroni &Cheese was first introduced to U.S. consumers. Now, an astonishing 1 million boxes are sold each day. Mac and cheese from a box is an easy, kid-pleasing meal when you’re in a pinch, but did you know it’s just as fast (give or take a few minutes) to make it from scratch?

Our homemade version may not have the same bright orange color as the stuff from a box, but kids love it, and so will you …especially when you learn it has more calcium per serving than a glass of milk.

Moms Make it over by: Using lowfat milk and reduced-fat cheese to increase the bone-building calcium and eliminating the butter to reduce the saturated fat and calories.

Fast-as-boxed macaroni and cheese

8 ounces dried small elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)

1 ½ cups 1 percent low-fat milk

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 ½ cups preshredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove (do not place over heat just yet). Add the milk, flour, mustard and garlic powder and whisk until well blended.

Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer and stir gently until the mixture thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.

Add the cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the pasta, heat through, and serve.

Moms’ Kitchen Notes: Add a 10-ounce package of your child’s favorite frozen vegetable to the dish for a more complete meal. Just toss the veggies in with the pasta for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Makes 4 servings.

Chicken nuggets are perfect when you’re in a pinch, but a lot of the frozen brands out there are made with processed chicken and a thick layer of greasy breading.

With these nuggets, you know exactly what you’re getting.

Moms make it over by: Using skinless, boneless chicken breast to lower the saturated fat and increase the protein; and baking instead of frying.

No-nonsense nuggets

3 cups corn flakes

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch of pepper

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into nugget-size pieces

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Lightly oil or coat a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the corn flakes in a resealable plastic bag and crush to a fine texture using a rolling pin or the bottom of a small saucepan, or place in a food processor and pulse several turns until finely crushed. Combine with the Parmesan cheese, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper in a medium bowl.

To bread the chicken, coat in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the egg, then coat well in the corn flake mixture.

Arrange the chicken on the prepared baking sheet and cook until golden brown, about 12 minutes.

Makes approximately 16 nuggets.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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