For kids and even some adults, there’s no better comfort food that macaroni and cheese. While the creamy combination of pasta and cheese is a classic kid’s favorite, it’s not exactly exploding with high nutritional value. Fortunately for parents and caregivers of picky eaters who survive by eating their fattening favorite, a few minor changes can make a major impact on its nutritional value.

The next time you’re making macaroni and cheese for the kiddos, consider these 5 ways you can make it healthier.

1. Add steamed veggies. Steamed broccoli or peas pair naturally well with macaroni and cheese. Broccoli will up the vitamin A, C and K content of this dish, as well as increase the fiber content. Peas are rich in B vitamins and their sweet flavor makes them a kid favorite. Adding a half a cup of steamed broccoli to each serving will add 2 g of protein and 3 g of fiber. Adding a half a cup of peas will add 4 g protein and 3.5 g of fiber.

2. Mix in a protein. Add a cooked protein of any kind to make mac and cheese a better balanced meal. Depending on your child’s tastes and what you can get away with, lean ground beef, chopped ham, diced chicken, canned tuna or all beef franks can be added. The type of protein you choose will determine how much protein is added. A ½ cup of boneless, skinless chicken breast will add about 22 g of protein. A ½ cup of drained, canned tuna will add about 19 g of protein.

3. Toss in some black beans. Since black beans are high in fiber, they are a great nutritional filler to pair with this kid’s classic. A solid heart-healthy option, black beans will help kids to feel fuller, faster which can prevent them from eating more than an appropriate serving size. A ½ cup of black beans will add about 8 g of dietary fiber.

4. Substitute whole wheat pasta. Since the pasta is covered in cheese, chances are you can get away with switching out traditional pasta for whole wheat. Even the major blue box varieties have come out with whole wheat and whole grain alternatives. By using whole wheat pasta, kids will get fuller faster and likely eat less.

5. Make your own. By using lower fat cheeses, reduced fat milk, omitting or switching out butter for cottage cheese, using whole wheat pasta or any combination of these in your favorite recipe you can carve off mucho calories without sacrificing too much taste. Depending on how much you’re willing to substitute or omit, you can save hundreds of calories per serving.

While it’s true that most kids are conditioned to eat only their favorite brand or recipe, most kids are also willing to add something new to the familiar if it’s done in passing and is introduced several times.

If you’re child refuses to eat his favorite mac and cheese with steamed broccoli, add something else. Giving children the choice of two different things to add can also make them feel like the have control over what their eating which may increase the likelihood that they’ll actually eat it.

Having kids help prepare their meal, as well, may make them more eager to try their classic with a twist. Even growing your own peas can make adding them to a favorite meal a much more attractive option.

While can be tempting to give up after trying something new once, but don’t. Serve up his favorite with a variety of nutritional boosting twists and eventually you’ll find a healthier version of macaroni and cheese that he likes.

Barbara Williams, FindaBabysitter.com

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