Help me cook healthier

In May my twin daughters were born and we now obviously have very little free time. As a result I’ve been cooking much less, relying on delivery (pizza etc.) and frozen food FAR too much.

I wouldn’t mind so much for myself because I know in a year or so things will calm down and I’ll be able to get back on a good diet. The problem though is my older daughter. She’s only 8 and I’m afraid of what this is doing to her. In the last 2 months instead of her normal active self, she’s become lethargic and disinterested in playing outside preferring to watch TV (since she’s on summer break, I’m at work all day, and her mother is pre-occupied with the newborns, this is very easy for her to do).

We’ve talked about this and have come up with the following:

[ul]No more “snacks”. This is completely my fault :frowning: , lately when I go grocery shopping I buy FAR too much comfort junk like cookies and chips.[/ul]

[ul]FAR fewer pizzas and heavy foods for dinner.[/ul]

[ul]No more than 1 hour of TV a day. If she’s bored she can either go out and play or she’ll get put to work around the house cleaning etc (which she’s actually pretty happy to do).[/ul]

[ul]More exercise. We’ve agreed that every evening either my wife or I will spend one hour with her be it playing catch, jogging riding bikes, etc.[/ul]

SO – help me out;

What “snacks” can I keep around for a growing girl? I’m thinking carrot and celery sticks maybe with some fat-free dressing?

What can I cook for dinner that’s relatively fast, low in fat and includes a good amount of veggies (some protein is appropriate as she’s still a growing kid so it doesn’t need to be vegetarian though that’s OK too)?

Any other suggestions?

She’s not real picky but keep in mind I gotta get an 8yo girl to eat his stuff[ul]

You’re on the right track and I don’t think there is a magical solution beyond what you already know.

Keep raw fruit, berries and vegetables a plenty. Make them easy to eat by having them pre-washed and pre-cut as appropriate. Eliminate chips, cookies and high sugar cereals and snacks. Pre-cook and slice chicken breasts and/or lean steak. Have hard boiled eggs, tuna salad and things like pita, hummus and baba ganoush available for healthy dip alternatives. Yogurt and low fat dressings are a good thing as well.

Kids won’t starve themselves. Even if they miss a meal or two because they don’t like what’s being served. I often feel like a rotten parent when I don’t give them what they’d really like and they refuse to eat what’s offered but I know they’ll get hungry eventually and have fruit or something equally healthy instead of that pizza they so desperately want me to order.

I’m far from a nutritionist, but I’d shy away from teaching her to eat low-fat foods this early in life. The low-fat thing is still being debated, and IMO it’s much better to learn to eat healthy portions of normal food. Also I believe - and I’m sure people will correct me if I’m wrong - kids need fat in their diet more than adults do.

Snacks: Can’t go wrong with fruits and vegetables. Nuts are good, too. How about yogurt? The healthy kind, not the stuff with gummi bears and/or candy in it that I see kids eating nowadays. Smoothies are good, too, and I bet that an 8 year old would have some funny learning how to make them.

Fast dinners: I returned to a full-time job a few months ago after working part-time at home for several years, and I’m having to remember how to cook fast meals again. We rely on:

  • chef’s salads: easy to throw together, and healthy. Just keep deli meat & veggies in your fridge at all times.
  • now that it’s summer, grilling out is easy & quick. Steak, pork, chicken, whatever. Make grilled veggies by slicing up whatever you like, brushing some Italian dressing on them, and grilling until done.
  • Eggs. Omelets for dinner are fun & easy, and make you feel like you live in Europe.
  • Easy sandwiches: French dips made by nuking deli roast beef, piling it on a hoagie bun, and dipping in canned beef stock. Grilled turkey & cheese on wheat bread. The list goes on forever.
  • Frozen veggies: on the days when you’re too bushed to cook a meat and cut up veggies, grab a bag of frozen whatever and throw it in the microwave. Add some butter, salt, lemon juice, italian dressing, whatever you like to spice them up.

That’s my ideas. Hope it helps.

Oh yeah, QuickSilver brought up a good point - I’ve found that a lot of the reason that people reach for things like cookies and candy is that it’s convenient. Make healthy snacks convenient, and people (not just kids) tend to go for those as well.

When I go to the grocery store, I usually bring back eggs and fruit (cherries, melon, & pineapple lately, maybe strawberries.) The first thing I do when putting up the groceries is dig out the eggs and put them on to boil. By the time I’m done putting away the groceries, I have a dozen hard-boiled eggs. They’re easy and nutritious snacks, and I try to keep them around all the time.

Next, I was and cut up any fruit and put it in the fridge. The cherries go in a nice ceramic colander type thing, the melon and pineapple go in separate tupperware containers. They’re displayed prominently in the fridge so as to encourage people to choose them over cookies.

If I snack, it’s on crackers or pretzels. For some reason, I think that’s healthier than sugary stuff. Sometimes fruit doesn’t hold me over.

Anyway, I like what Athena said: teach them to eat normal portions of normal food. Buying low fat alternatives to things really plays into that thinking of “fats are the culprit. sugars are the culprit. carbs are the culprit. cholesterol is the culprit.” Like as if, you can just substitute for one of them, keep eating the same otherwise and think you’re doing something.

Almost every night for dinner, we eat a combination of meat/fish with veggies/salad and bread/pasta/rice. It’s filling. It’s tasty. It gets you cooking. I make marianades with sugar and salt and oil but as long as you’re not gorging, that’s all right.

Your suggestions are a good start.

Look at some of the recipies for snacks on

nuts! they’re good for you, have protein, have good fats, etc.

Fruits are good things to keep around as well. Easily accessible ones like berries and bananas. Stuff she can get herself. Certain kinds of dried fruits are also good… not the sugar-encrusted kind. You can get freeze-dried fruits at most health food stores (and, I think, at wal-mart) and they’re fantastic (not to mention low-cal)

granola bars are always good. You can even make them yourself if you have the time.
zbars are specially made for kids. I’ve never tried them, but luna bars (from the same company) are pretty good. Luna bars also have a full day’s supply of vitamin b12, which you have to watch on a vegetarian diet (I don’t know if you’re vegetarian or not, but you mentioned it, so…)

something I actually have in the oven right now: sweet potato fries. They’re healthier than regular french fries and they’re a little bit sweet, so fairly kid-friendly. (chop up your sweet potato, put it on a greased cookie sheet or one with parchment paper, spray it with oil or PAM, springle salt on, and bake 40-60 min at 400 degrees)

and as for dinner…

one of my favorites is tofu scramble. Basically, you fry some chopped-up potatoes, put all the veggies in the house in, and then crumble some tofu in there and spice it. My last tofu scramble was potatoes, corn, black beans, diced tomatoes, tofu, taco seasoning, some hot sauce, some cumin, green onions, and some leftover brown rice all mixed together with some salsa. The possibilities are endless and it takes like three minutes to make.

oh, and of course switch to whole grains where you can.

that’s all I’ve got at the moment. Still trying to figure out what to make for dinner tonight.

Don’t automatically assume healthy means ‘low-fat’. Few societies worldwide ate low-fat until it became fashionable in the 80’s.

Good rule of thumb: If it didn’t actually grow that way, pass it up.

An egg is better than homogenized, pastuerized egg whites in a jar.

Cherries are better than cherry jam.

Boiled wheat berries are better than crackers or even whole wheat bread.

Real cheese, as opposed to pretend fat-free cheese-like substance.

Slices of beef as opposed to sausages or ground beef hamburger helper.

Kids like bright colors, shapes. Broccoli ‘trees’ (with actual butter on them). Red pepper ‘canoes’. Orange ‘smiles’

Chicken drumsticks (with the skin, please) come with their own handles.

Just to clarify - I have no intention of eliminating fat or any such thing. I’m just not going to let her sit on the couch with a big bag of chips. If she just wants to munch I’d prefer it be something like carrot or celery sticks or fruit (great suggestion BTW).

If you push a healthy lifestyle too hard it could backfire though. I have read studies on it totally backfiring when parents attempt to do that as the kids just end up craving forbidden foods more and more and more.

For healthier eating I would recommend switching to high fiber bread instead of refined bread. sara lee heart healthy plus is a good brand with 4-5g fiber per slice. Earthgrains has 5g per slice and is good too. Or you can get bread made with flaxseeds for fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important to health and severely lacking in western diets.

You also may want to buy some milled flaxseed or milled bran and put that into whatever you end up baking (it comes in powder form, you just add it into the mixing bowl). If you bake pancakes, muffins, waffles, etc. add a good deal of milled flaxseed to it. It doesn’t change the taste but it adds alot of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber to the baked goods.

You can also bake things like cookies and use applesauce instead of oil in the recipe (you won’t notice a taste difference). In fact I’d try that, get some cookie mix and use milled flaxseed (or milled bran) along with some applesauce instead of oil. That way you’ll have cookies high in essential fatty acids, low in fat and high in fiber.

I’ve never tried cooking with protein powder before but I’d assume you can add that to foods too (ie add chocolate flavored whey protein to chocolate flavored baking foods) to increase the protein content.

Anyway, that is my recommendation for snacks. Bake something like brownies or cookies, but use applesauce instead of oil and add liberal amounts of milled flaxseeds or milled bran to them, as well as maybe a bit of whey protein if that is your thing. I doubt an 8 year old girl will be happy with celery sticks.

Beyond that I’d also recommend switching to turkey burgers or ground sirloin or ground round instead of ground beef, as well as turkey hot dogs instead of ground beef (they all taste good, not a huge difference between them) as they all have the same protein amount but fewer calories. Also they also make higher fiber, higher protein hamburger and hotdog buns instead of the refined white kinds.

Mexican food is high in veggies and easy to make for dinner. So is Italian food.

Here is a study, one of many. The point is you can have ‘forbidden foods’ like cookies, hamburgers, hot dogs and brownies lying around for your kids, they don’t have to feel restricted to stereotypical diet foods like vegetables. But if you make these foods yourself and make them differently than the store bought brands you can have them filled with fiber, omega 3s and protein.

Heh. I’d be willing to wager that the results of this study isn’t limited to kids. Adults act the same way; we always want what we percieve we can’t have.

That’s a good point but let me point out that it is perfectly possible to have some kinds of food be “rarely eaten” without them being forbidden.

My parents didn’t buy a lot of sweets (or much processed food for that matter) but these things were not forbidden. If I wanted cookies I was encouraged to bake a batch myself. It doesn’t take that long and a kid about 8 can bake oatmeal cookies, for instance, with only a little supervision and assistance.

Another dessert that’s quite easy to make and also fairly healthy are fruit crumbles and cobblers. Some favorites are apple of course, and blackberry-pear, and blueberry-lime. Berries have a ton of antioxidants and are low in sugars even though they taste sweet. I usually buy them frozen at the grocery store.

The point is to put some thought and effort into making sweets, and not just have them be a default choice you grab off a shelf.

I would go with this approach rather than the replace the fat with applesauce. Make treats just that - treats. Not an everyday occurrence. Don’t keep them in the house, but don’t make them totally verboten. Keep the ingredients for them available.

Is she too old for bugs on a log?

Fruit in season is a wonderful thing to keep around the house. Frozen fruit for smoothies is good too. If you are going to go with yogurt, read the label! Some of them are crammed with sugar.

Fat is essential. Try to make it the right fats. Nuts and nut butters in good portions.

Try to make the decision to eat a decision, not habit. Keep the snacks in places where you have to think about it to get them. If you are the one getting the snacks out, be sure to ask if she is hungry before you get them.

Make the changes as inconspicuous as possible.


Know how you’re supposed to eat more whole grains? Know how they’re low in fat and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals? Know how whole grains take forever to cook? There’s a solution: pressure cooker.

Modern pressure cookers are very easy to use and safe. I even have an old-fashioned model, and it’s so good for cooking brown rice and beans that it’s well worth the trouble to use. You can cook brown rice in ~20 minutes (~5 minutes to come up to pressure, 15 minutes at pressure, then quick release.) Rice and beans: under an hour—and you don’t have to soak the beans overnight. Just watched Good Eats last night and Alton cooked up some wheat berries in 45 minutes, which I’m gonna have to try.

After a while, potatoes, white rice, and other refined starches just start to seem . . . uninspiring. My husband (Picky McPickenstein) was initially resistant to the brown rice thing, but recently he commented in a restaurant, “The pilaf is okay . . . but it’d be better with brown rice.” :slight_smile:

Maybe you could involve your daughter in planning menus and preparing meals. Teach her how to safely handle knives, kitchen appliances, etc., and let her perform certain tasks in a recipe: brown meats, cut up vegetables, measure spices, etc. I’ve read numerous times that children are more apt to eat foods that they help prepare. This will also help your daughter when she’s on her won and preparing her own meals.

I try to do this and it’s a great suggestion.

The thing is, she’ll eat good wholesome food if it’s provided.

My problem is that I need ideas (ie recipies) for providing that quality of food in a quick, easy, and tasty format. As I mentioned before, with newborn twins time is the one thing I have very little of.

One of my favourite quick, balanced dinners is chicken or tuna with pasta and veggies. Cook the pasta (I use whole-wheat pasta or Kraft mac and cheese - when are they going to start making that stuff whole wheat?), toss in your veggies (I use frozen for convenience - broccoli, peas, corn, whatever you like), drain and rinse, add tuna or cubed chicken that you’ve browned, add any sauces that you like (teriyaki, soya sauce, cheese sauce, whatever), heat it up a little and serve. You got your protein, you got your carbs, you got your veggies - it’s all good.

For time-saving tips:

-One of my biggest time savers is to plan meals ahead. I do grocery shopping once a week, but I make up a menu for the entire week, then buy what I need for those meals. That way I don’t have to spend time deciding what we’re having every night, or run to the store if I’m missing essential ingredients, or serve the same meals over and over again because it’s all I can think of. I put my favorite recipes on the computer (many of them are just copy-and-paste from websites), then print them onto index cards. I have 20-30 family-favorite recipes, and I keep them in a magnetic card holder on my fridge. They are easy to find, and if I accidentally spill something on one (or worse), I can just print another. Much easier to use than books. And in a pinch I can just bring the cards with me to the store instead of making a shopping list.

-Use frozen veggies when you can. They keep longer than fresh, are relatively cheap, and are just as healthy as fresh. They don’t have to washed, peeled, or chopped ahead of time, and they aren’t as high in sodium as canned veggies.

-Stir-fries are really good quick meals, especially if you use frozen veggies. I can cook up a batch of stir-fried veggies (with meat if desired) in the time it takes to steam a batch of rice to go with it. Add soy sauce to taste, or for the kids, serve with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and possibly a little chili oil (if they like hottish food). Stir-fry also doesn’t have to be oriental. I do Italian stir-fry and Mexican stir-fry, by just changing the seasonings a litte.

-Homemade pizza can also be fast food AND nutritious. I make whole wheat pizza dough from scratch, and add whatever toppings I happen to have on hand. It takes about ten minutes to mix and knead the dough, then I let the dough rise while I prep the other ingredients. Put it all together, and pop in the oven for ten minutes. You can add as much or as little cheese as you want, but remember that kids can use the fat and calcium in cheese.

-Kid-friendly snack: Flour tortilla with melted cheese. Sprinkle cheese of choice on flour tortilla. Zap in microwave for 30 seconds. Roll up and eat. (My 10yo does this by himself.) For a meal, add refried beans, chopped lettuce, and tomatoes, and you have burritos. Both our kids just like plain flour tortillas as a snack, but they can also be made into a sweetish snack by putting butter and cinnamon sugar on them, and toasting them in the toaster oven, and they can be a good “spoon” for hummus.

-Hummus: Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas. Put the chickpeas in a food processor with a little tahini (if you have it), a little lemon juice, and some ground cumin. Process until smooth. Eat with “raw” or toasted flour tortillas.