Fast but not too fast food: Make healthy meals kids love

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Feeding kids healthy and nutritious meals is not as hard as you might think. The trick is to follow two basic rules. First, serve only quality meals. They won't know what they're missing - i.e., junk and processed food - if they never had it. Secondly, give them what they want. Yes, it's that simple.

If macaroni and cheese is what they're craving, use whole-wheat pasta and real cheese (real cheese mixed with real milk equals cheese sauce). You've just swapped additives and preservatives for fiber, protein and calcium. And while you're at it, add a veggie - tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus or diced peppers (chopped in small pieces - they're too hard to pick out if they're tiny) are all great options.

With a little help from mom, pizza doesn't have to be on the junk food list. Use a whole-wheat crust, sold in most grocery stores, and set up bowls filled with cut up veggies and cheese. Let the kids make their own personalized pizza. More fiber, less refined carbohydrates, appropriate portions of cheese and fresh veggies. Kids love to help - and to eat what they prepare.

Fast food joints aren't the only place to get delicious fried chicken. Homemade baked fried chicken with baked potato chips taste just as good as anything you'll find at KFC, with a fraction of the fat and calories.

The recipe: pound a chicken until very thin; dip in egg and then coat with whole-wheat breadcrumbs (preferably make your own; if not check the label and make sure it doesn't contain any partially hydrogenated ingredients). Place on a baking sheet that has been pre-heated at 400 F with about 1 tablespoon of canola oil (the oil heated as well). Cook for about 15 minutes and then flip - be sure to only flip once, as this keeps the chicken crisp.

For the chips, slice a potato or sweet potato into very thin rounds, pat dry, brush both sides with olive or canola oil, place on a baking sheet and bake as you did the chicken.

Chicken or shrimp enchiladas are quick, easy and a favorite for most kids. Use whole-wheat tortillas; mash and add black beans and corn to the chicken or shrimp mixture; top with salsa, avocado, low fat sour cream and a bit of cheese. Another winner.

Chicken Tortilla Wraps

Makes 8 wraps.

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil

1 small onion thinly sliced

1 bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice, optional

1 pound chicken breast thinly sliced

1 tomato, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1/2 cup ripe avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup leaf lettuce, chopped

8 (8-inch) tortillas, preferably whole-wheat

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa

1. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onions and peppers (if using), and saute until onions are golden brown and peppers are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken. Cook until done. (If serving very young children, consider dicing chicken.)

2. Cut/chop/shred tomato, avocado, cheese and lettuce.

3. Heat the flour tortillas. Spoon a small portion of the chicken and onion mixture in a long cigar shape line on the bottom third of the tortilla. Add 1/8 portions of the tomato, avocado, lettuce and cheese. Drizzle with fresh limejuice.

3. Roll the tortillas and spoon the salsa on top. Serve at once.

229 calories per serving, 8 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 3 g mono fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 18 g protein.

• Betsy Berthin, R.D. is a registered dietician and nutritional consultant based in Miami, Fla.


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