I’m sort of in love with food. Eating it is pure joy to me, cooking it is my getaway and nourishing my family with it is so very gratifying. It’s a way for people to come together. It’s a reason to sit down with one another and talk about our day. I’m fortunate enough to have found a husband who loves it all as much as I do. Pre-kids, we spent weekends brunching out, happy-houring out and enjoying late evening dinners all around the city. Our weeknights consisted of cooking healthful, top-notch, detailed dinners that were so fun to eat at 8 o’clock in the evening coupled with good conversation and a bottle of wine. I suppose you could say it was the good life. Then kids came along. And I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The weekends went from brunching out to pancakes at home in our jammies. The happy hours turned into the tail end of nap time. And the dinners out have gone from a four-course, all evening experience to a lets-try-to-get-there-early-to-beat-the-rush-so-we-can-get-in-and-out-as-quickly-as-possible kind of experience. The weeknights have gone from sitting down for dinner at 8 o’clock to dinner, playtime, bath and bed all before 8 o’clock. And guess what? I call it the great life. We still get our occasional date nights to revert back to our pre-kids lifestyle. But the truth is, even if I do make fun of it, this oh-so-different life is right smack dab where I want to be.
So while the routine and plan of events have drastically changed, I am still mindful of the food we eat. Just in a slightly different way. I still put the effort in, I do. But now it’s all about shortcuts. And sneaking in nutrition whenever I can. And trying to accommodate kid tastebuds while keeping the grown ups happy, too. A new challenge, I suppose. Gears have shifted… just like they do in so many other ways when kiddos come along. So, in honor of National Nutrition Month, I thought it would only be appropriate to share a few of my favorite swaps and tricks to keep things kid-approved, mama-doable, totally delicious and, most importantly, nourishing for my family.
1. Macaroni and Cheese-not from a box
Yes, I just have to start with this one. What kid doesn’t love macaroni and cheese? You will feel SO much better about feeding your kids a homemade version like this and it’s just as simple to achieve as the box. No dyes. No scary words on the ingredient list. The real deal. Incredibly fast, easy and so very tasty, to boot.
2. Start with a smoothie
Smoothies are a great way to start the day. They’re fast, transportable, tasty, filling and a great way to sneak veggies in. Here is our favorite smoothie recipe.
3. Oatmeal-not from a packet
Remember those little oatmeal packets? Cinnamon and spice? My gosh I loved those things as a kid. Have you looked at the ingredient list on those packets? YIKES. Here is a just-as-tasty version without any of the junk. If the convenience is what you are going for, just portion the oats and spices into little storage bags so all you have to do is add your liquids as you cook it.
4. Just add spinach
Add chopped fresh spinach to a variety of warm dishes. It wilts right in and becomes a part of the meal so easily. We eat it in scrambled eggs, pastas, soups, stews, casseroles, you name it.
5. Pasta swap
I understand that pasta is not the healthiest. But the reality is that I just don’t want to deprive my family of it. We love it. My kids go nuts for it. So, when we do have it, we choose a better option like Quinoa Pasta or Brown Rice Pasta. This is such an easy swap that makes a world of difference nutritionally.
6. Serve it with a toothpick
My kids LOVE to eat with toothpicks. My genius mom introduced me to this idea. No matter what is on their plate, if it is able to be picked up with a toothpick it goes in the mouth and down to the belly. I buy those colored toothpicks, let them choose their color and we call it a toothpick party. Now if only I can get this to work for the next ten years.
7. Substitute honey or maple syrup
We have kids. They love sweets. And I want them to be able to enjoy them in moderation. There are so many schools of thought on the subject of sugar. My school of thought? Whole foods are better. This is an intriguing article, in my opinion, that discusses the differences between honey and white sugar. In almost every recipe, I try to use honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. They aren’t a new fad, they’ve been around for years and you’re getting a sure thing as long as you read the label. Right here and here are a few of our favorite recipes that utilize this swap. We also use a tad bit of honey and fresh or frozen fruit in whole milk greek yogurt instead of buying the store-bought sweetened yogurts. A tiny bit goes a long way…about 1/2 teaspoon of honey will sweeten an entire cup of yogurt. Tastes awesome and a much better choice nutritionally.
8. Opt for alternative flours
While I try to sprinkle grains into our diet as as opposed to making them the center of our meals, refined white and wheat flours are something I tend to really limit in our house. There is just no nutritional value in my opinion. All of the nutrients have been stripped away during processing and to top it off, harmful things such as high fructose corn syrup have been added along the way. It may not be something you feel comfortable eliminating all together but every bit counts. Making small changes here and there is positively better than no change at all. I typically opt for oat flour, coconut flour and almond meal instead of refined white or wheat flour. These are something that need to be played around with if you are creating your own recipes, but once you get it you’re good to go. They are both very accessible, too, being available at every market I’ve visited. If you haven’t used them before and would like to try them out in a recipe, these and these are a couple of our baked favorites that use these flours instead of white flour.
9. Read labels to find healthful, time-saving pantry products
Not everyone has time to simmer a marinara sauce all day. Or to make a salad dressing from scratch. Keeping our pantry stocked full of quick time-savers is a must. This is where I really try to be conscious of label-reading. Again, everyone has their own school of thought on this topic. My school of thought? I want to know what’s in my food. I bypass the “nutrition facts” every single time and go right for the “ingredients” list. If I don’t know what things are that are listed or I can’t pronounce them, I know it’s something I don’t really want to feed my family. I have the best luck shopping for these kinds of things at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco.
10. Fruit for dessert
We eat fruit for dessert after meals. My kids adore it. It’s as sweet as a cookie, as juicy as a popsicle and totally hits the spot when you need a sugar fix. Buy their very favorite fruits to have on hand… it’s incredible how many varieties there are to choose from to keep things fun and fresh. It beats buying Oreos any day of the week;)
I really and truly think it is possible for us to continue to feed our kids awesome, enjoyable food while staying mindful of the nutrition component. Will we be able to achieve this 100% of the time? Maybe not. Do I feel that small changes here and there will make a difference in the health and well being of our families? Absolutely. Every single bit counts. Happy National Nutrition Month! Now what swaps and tricks can you share with me?