Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Young children have small appetites and are just learning to try new foods, therefore, they may only eat one or two bites at mealtime. It is important to make those bites count! Of course, it’s good for all of us to maximize the nutrients we consume.
By changing a few small things, we can add a little extra nutrition into meals and snacks, and be confident that we are getting the most out of what we are feeding our children.
Try these ideas to infuse more nutrition into your meals.
1. Enhance ready-made meals
You don’t always have to start from scratch. Have a look at the pre-made foods your family likes to eat and find ways to make them a little healthier. For example:
add extra vegetables to frozen pizza, canned sauces, and soup (i.e. peppers and mushrooms to a pepperoni pizza and frozen veggies to soup)
Eat hot dogs or smokies on whole wheat buns, and serve with fruit and milk; or, serve chicken nuggets with sweet potato fries, or veggies with yogurt dip or hummus.
2. Swap out half
Maybe you're not ready to go all the way. Start by swapping out half. Start with these examples:
use half meat and half beans, or lentils in tacos or hamburgers.
add tofu to your stir fry and use a little less meat.
mix half white pasta, rice or bread with whole grain varieties, such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat flour, whole grain bread.
Sometimes the same food you love could be tweaked a little to boost the nutrition. Here are some examples:
substitute the higher fat and processed meat, like pepperoni or Italian sausage, on pizza with leaner protein options like chicken or ham, or replace ground beef in tacos, spaghetti or lasagna with ground turkey.
plain Greek yogurt makes a great substitution for sour cream.
use canned evaporated milk instead of cream in recipes for lower fat and higher calcium.
4. Bake healthy
A lot of baking recipes can be altered to include some healthier ingredients. You just need to experiment a little to see what works best. Luckily for you, I've done some of the work. Try these ideas to get started.
Look for recipes that include vegetables or fruit (dried, fresh, frozen or canned). For example, blueberry muffins, apple crisp, chocolate beet muffins, banana loaf, zucchini loaf or carrot cake with crushed pineapple.
Add or substitute with whole grains, i.e., oats, whole wheat flour, 9 or 12 grain cereal. You can usually substitute at least half of the flour with whole wheat flour.
Include nuts or seeds like flax, chia, hemp, sunflower, walnuts or almonds, when appropriate. Try this in breads, muffins, cookies or fruit crumbles.
You can usually reduce the amount of sugar in recipes. Be careful not to cut out too much at once. Start slowly and go from there.
5. Load up on veggies and fruit
Look for opportunities to add extra vegetables and fruit to your recipes. Try these ideas to load up on the veggies and fruit.
Add extra veggies to soup, stews, taco meat and eggs (i.e. try shredded carrots or beets, mushrooms, bell peppers, corn, broccoli, kale, asparagus)
When roasting potatoes, include other vegetables like beets, parsnips, carrots or yams.
Try experimenting with different vegetables in your smoothies like spinach, beets, carrots or avocado.
Mash thawed fruit and serve on pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt or ice cream.
6. Add pulses
Pulses are beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas. They are high in protein and fiber and keep you feeling full longer. They are also budget friendly and easy to use. You can leave them whole or mash them up. Any way you choose, they are a great addition to many different meals!
One of my favorite ingredients to add to recipes is split red lentils. This type of pulse is very convenient, it does not have to be pre-soaked or pre-cooked. You can simply add them to your pot of soup or boiling noodles and they will cook quickly. Try red split lentils to thicken sauces, soups and mac 'n' cheese.
You don’t have to be vegan to eat pulses. You can get the benefits of eating pulses by adding a little at a time or simply by swapping half.
We all want good health, especially for our kids. By changing just a few simple things, we can add more nutrients to our meals and maximize each bite we take. How will you infuse more nutrition into your meals?
By Janine LaForte, RD
Real Life Nutrition