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Kids Favourites - Meal Makeovers

Slip in a little 'green' to make your kids' favourite lunch and dinner choices healthier!

I know what it can be like. If left to their own devices, your kids would eat macaroni cheese or pizza three meals a day and acts like it's torture to finish their vegetables.  The problem? Getting in the green stuff! In one recent study done in America (and yes I know NZ is different but believe me the trend is similar), nearly 60 percent of adolescents ate only about one fruit or vegetable a day -- behaviour that likely dates back to not-so-great eating habits established when they were young.

But you needn't banish pizza forever. Instead, sneak fruits and veggies into your kids' beloved though less-than-healthy meals. Here are no-hassle lunch and dinner makeover ideas for five go-to favourites.


pizza The Makeover:

Whether you're ordering in, heating it up, or making it from scratch, top your pizza with flavour-packed nutrient-boosters like chopped tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli, and basil leaves. Aim for about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vegetables or fruit (pineapple makes a great topper) per slice.
Get the kids involved: This is a great task for a mini sous chef hankering to help in the kitchen.

Expert Tips:
  • If you opt to make your pizza from scratch, use wholemeal flour to make the base and low-fat cheese. Or try mixing parmesan or white cheddar with your basic mozzarella.  The stronger flavor of those cheeses means you can get away with using less.
  • For a veggie packed pizza sauce blend/puree your standard tomato puree with veggies like onion, courgette, mushroom and capsicums.  The kids won't even know they are there and they still taste yummy!

Chicken Nuggets

chickennuggets The Makeover:

Balance out this typically fried dish by serving healthy sides. Instead of greasy French fries, make your own baked kumara fries -- they're packed with vitamin A and also provide some fiber if you leave the skin on. Keep some sliced veggies on the table too.  If they're out there, your kids will inevitably try munching on them.

Expert Tips:
  • For healthier chicken nuggets, skip the pre-made stuff. Instead, dip chicken breasts or tenders in egg wash (a mix of egg and milk), then in seasoned bread crumbs, crushed corn flakes or my favourite oat bran. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees C. for 20 minutes.
  • Dip it: Serve the chicken nuggets with tomato sauce or a combination of blended tomato sauce and veggies to get a few extra sneaky greens in there too!

Macaroni Cheese

macaroni cheese The Makeover:

Whipping it up from the packet? Then just add some frozen mixed vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots, which help to boost this high-fat, low-fiber dish. Don't just assume your kids won't like it - everything tastes better when it's doused in cheese! In fact, a recent study found that using "stealth vegetables" -- hiding them in sauces so that kids don't automatically recognise them -- helped boost pre-schoolers' veggie intake and slash their calorie consumption significantly compared to those who ate pasta without extra vegetables tossed in.

Expert Tips:
  • If you're doing the from-scratch thing, make your dish even healthier with whole wheat pasta and low-fat cheese (edam).
  • If you are worried that your kids will just 'pick out' the veggies then puree them first.  Opt for whiter/lighter coloured veggies as they are easier to disguise in the cheese sauce.
  • Try adding in some low fat ham or chicken to boost the protein content of the meal.
  • Make a lower-fat cheese sauce by blending cottage cheese with natural yoghurt and then adding in some grated cheese.


meatballs The Makeover:

Marinara (tomato based) sauce is a good start, but you can doctor it up by mixing in a can of antioxidant-packed diced tomatoes before heating in a saucepan.  Then toss in shredded carrots, chopped mushrooms, and onions to beef up the veggie quotient even more.

Expert Tips:
  • Give mini-meatballs a go. The portions are more age-appropriate and easier for little kids to handle, and chances are you and your hubby will eat a bit less (and cut back on calories) too.
  • Again, if required puree the veggie into the tomato based sauce and up the fibre content of the meal by using wholemeal pasta.
  • If you have a little one that doesn't really love meat and finds a whole meatball a bit too daunting try mixing through the minced meat through the sauce and veggies, he is less likely to notice them this way!

Toasted Cheese Sandwiches

Toasted cheese The Makeover:

Add a slice of ham or chicken and a couple of tomatoes before toasting for a quick way to pack this simple sandwich with more protein and veggies.

Expert Tips:
  • Skip the butter (it's high in saturated fat) and with all that cheese they won't even notice it isn't there.
  • Use wholemeal/wholegrain bread or a mix (1 x white and 1 x wholemeal/grain) to up the fibre content.

Browse more of our articles here.  Or for some of our healthy recipes and meal ideas have a look at our recipe section.