In the busy evenings after work and school, getting dinner on the table is a top priority. With the demands of work and home, though, you may not have time to plan a nutritious meal for every day of the week. Don't worry -- you don't need a detailed plan to ensure your family is eating well. All you need is a list of the foods that your family needs to be healthy, and you can create meals every night that they are sure to enjoy.
Vegetables and Fruit
You've heard a million times that healthy families eat plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, but getting your kids to munch on vegetables is another story. Sneak them in as "rainbow fries" -- lightly sautéed carrot sticks, asparagus sticks, cucumber spears, and red and yellow pepper strips, served with a cup of fat-free ranch dressing for dipping. For a dinner starter, try lettuce wraps. A big lettuce leaf wrapped around colorful shredded carrots, onions and cheese drizzled with creamy dressing will whet the appetite and help your family get one of their five-a-day. At dessert, toss fresh frozen berries in a cup of fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt. Kids love the unusual unusual texture of the berries, and don't even realize they're getting a healthy dose of antioxidants.
Growing kids and healthy adults need lean protein to build muscle and stay energized throughout the day. Plus, protein breaks down slowly and helps you feel full for longer. Try grilled chicken strips or homemade burgers with extra-lean ground beef for picky kids, or shredded-chicken sloppy joes. A dash of dry dressing and seasoning mix will boost the flavor. For an extra punch of protein with any dinner, add mixed unsalted nuts, such as Brazil nuts, cashews, and almonds, to a salad or stir-fry. If you're vegetarian, beans are packed with protein and pair well with inexpensive staples like brown rice or couscous. Eggs also are an excellent source of protein, and when combined with chopped veggies and low-fat cheese they become part of a nutritional powerhouse of a meal. They aren't just for breakfast, either; if you're too tired to cook much in the evening, make omelets. A drizzle of creamy spicy ranch dressing adds some zip to any omelet.
Don't make the mistake of putting all carbohydrates in the "unhealthy" category. Complex carbs are essential for maintaining high energy levels and decreasing risk of obesity in children. Stay away from simple carbs like white bread at dinnertime. Instead, treat your family to whole-wheat pita pockets stuffed with shredded cheese, black beans, and brown rice with tomato salsa, or simple whole-grain sandwiches made with unprocessed meat and cheese. Drizzle creamy fat-free dressing over your sandwich for flavor without added fat. Pasta is an excellent dinnertime choice -- whole-wheat pasta can keep your family full and satisfied until bedtime. Saute broccoli and cauliflower with olive oil and garlic, and combine them with whole-wheat penne pasta tossed in your favorite creamy salad dressing. Add a side of whole-grain garlic bread for extra crunch. Or, have a Mexican night. All you need are whole-wheat tortillas and tasty Southwest ingredients like pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, guacamole, and chicken with a zesty dry dressing and seasoning mix to add a kick.
Calcium seems to lag behind other nutrients in terms of priority at the dinner table, but it should be near the top of your list every night. It aids in bone and teeth health and decreases the risk of obesity. For an appetizer, spread low-fat Neufchatel or cream cheese over quarters of whole-wheat toasted bagels and season with a dash of dry dressing and dip mix. Add low-fat cheese to turkey burgers or chicken dishes. If your recipe calls for milk, use fat-free or 2 percent to cut fat and calories. Serve fat-free frozen yogurt or ice cream, or rice pudding for dessert. Buy orange juice fortified with calcium, and swap soda or punch for a glass at dinnertime.
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