Friday, September 6, 2013

Cooking with Kids - Fast Food Makeovers

All kids love fast food.  Even kids who grow up with garden-loving parents who crafted homemade baby food and refused to feed their child sugar for the first years of his life succumb to the allure of the happy meal. 

There’s nothing wrong with having a hamburger or chicken fingers every now and then.  It’s part of growing up.  But, as a parent, you can arm yourself with tips and recipes for making your own fast food at home, so you can control the quality of the ingredients.  Make it fun, and your child will beg for the box with the prize inside just a little less.  Here are a few tips for making your own nourishing fast food experience at home.

      1. Invite your child into the kitchen to help make dinner.  Kids are more likely to eat what they cook.  Kids love projects, and cooking their own dinner gives them a sense of accomplishment and ownership.  Give them age-appropriate tasks like washing vegetables, measuring ingredients, dumping or stirring.   


        2. Cook with whole, real foods.  Studies have shown that food additives can affect a child’s behavior, and can aggravate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Start with whole, unprocessed foods that are free of artificial colors, preservatives and sweeteners, and you can rest assured your child is getting the nutrition she needs with the taste she wants.  For example, for a milk shake, blend milk with frozen bananas, peanut butter and some cocoa powder for a ‘Chunky Monkey’ shake.  And speaking of Chunky Monkey…   

      3. Give foods fun names.  A recent study shows kids eat twice as many vegetables when the veggies were labeled with cool, fun names, like ‘X-ray Vision Carrots’ and ‘Tiny Tasty Tree Tops.’  So, let your kids come up with fun names for foods and you’ll watch those veggies disappear!

      4. Give kids choices.  Like all of us, kids want to have control.  Let them choose between healthy options, and they’ll feel empowered.  For example, when you’re making pizza, set out bowls of different types of vegetable (and maybe even some fruit!) toppings, and let your child build his own pizza.  You may be surprised when he chooses spinach!    

      5.  Sneak in a little extra nutrition.  Studies suggest kids may have to taste a food 15 or 20 times before she starts to like it.  So, keep serving that side of broccoli and encouraging your child to at least taste it.  Eventually, her taste buds will start to accept it—and even like it!  In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with sneaking a little more vegetables into her favorite foods, to make sure she’s getting all the nutrition she needs.  For example, shred carrots or zucchini and add it to hamburgers or meatballs, add shredded or puree veggies to the pasta sauce, or puree cauliflower and add it to mac n’ cheese.  You can even blend fresh spinach into a blueberry smoothie.  I promise, she’ll never know!  This works for picky husbands, too.  

      6. Don’t forget the fun drink.  Mostly, kids need water, water, water.  Sugar-filled sodas, sports drinks, and even juice provide extra calories with little nutritional value.  But, we all need a fun, flavorful drink every now and then.  Make your own ‘soda’ by adding a splash of 100% fruit juice to sparkling water, and even garnishing it with fresh fruit slices or berries.  

      7. Eat together as a family.  The research is clear—kids who eat dinner with their parents are healthier, happier and less likely to get into trouble as a teen.  The best conversations in our lives—and often our best memories—usually happen around the table.  There are 1,440 minutes in a day—make at least 30 of those minutes a dinner with your kids, and you’ll all be happier!

Here are a few online resources filled with articles and ideas for cooking with your kids.

Kids Eat Right ( is a site of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, focused on kids nutrition. 

Spatulatta ( teaches children to cook with free step-by-step videos and encourages children to eat more vegetables and fruits.

Super Kids Nutrition ( provides articles, tips and resources for raising healthy eaters. 

The Kids Cook Monday ( provides articles, tips and resources for cooking with your kids.

ZisBoomBah ( is an interactive website that helps families get excited about healthy meals.

This article appears in the Fall 2013 issue of Bellingham Alive.

Here are two recipes for making your own happy meal at home.  

Crispy Chicken Fingers

Serves 4

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a splash of water
1 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the chicken breasts into strips the size of ‘chicken fingers’.

Pour the whole wheat flour, eggs, and whole wheat panko bread crumbs each into separate bowls.  Season each well with sea salt and black pepper.  Pour the olive oil into the panko bread crumbs and toss well to evenly distribute the oil.

Bread each chicken by dipping each in (1) whole wheat flour, (2) egg, and (3) panko bread crumbs, patting on the panko bread crumbs to make sure they adhere well. 

Lay the prepared chicken tenders onto a rack set on a baking sheet.  Bake the chicken in the preheated oven until the chicken is cooked through and browned and crispy, about 12 to 15 minutes.

‘French Fries’

Serves 4

2 russet potatoes or sweet potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place a sheet pan in the oven to preheat.

Cut each potato into wedges of desired size, smaller for crispier potatoes and larger for steak fries.  Place potato wedges into a large bowl and toss with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.

Remove sheet pan from preheated oven.  Pour potatoes onto pan and arrange in a single layer.  Return pan to oven and bake for about 25 - 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are deep golden brown. 

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