March is Nutrition Month – Tips from a Dietitian

BY: JESSICA SERDIKOFF, RD | www.floptimism.com

10 HEALTHY HACKS FOR WARMING YOUR FAMILY UP TO NUTRITION 

Moving your family towards a healthier diet can be a hard a sell. I know, because I’ve been on the other side of it. Growing up, I was as far from a future dietitian as a kid could get. My idea of five food groups was: pizza, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, French fries, and dessert. I didn’t go from those limited preferences to chowing down on quinoa salads and roasted Brussels sprouts overnight, and neither will your family. That’s ok! Fortunately, there are plenty of nutritious ingredients that can be used creatively to gradually help your family warm up to a healthier diet.

Some might call it “sneaky,” and maybe that’s true; but I like to think of it as baby steps. We start by masking the challenging flavors of more natural, less processed foods, and over time we get a little bolder with the recipes, as everyone becomes more familiar with these new foods. In the meantime, at least you know that your family is starting to get some nutritious foods in. It’s up to you whether you tell them the secret ingredients before or after they’ve eaten!

Here are my top ten nutritional superstars that can help your family learn that healthy foods can taste delicious, too!

  1. Tofu: Whether it’s blending silken tofu into a heavenly chocolate pie, baking extra-firm tofu into protein-rich fries, or creating a riff on blue cheese to pair with buffalo cauliflower wings (you heard that right!), tofu is a pro at masquerading. I do recommend looking for organic or non-GMO verified varieties, which are pretty easy to come by.
  1. Cauliflower: Recipes for pulsing cauliflower into rice-like crumbles are everywhere these days, but that’s not the only trick cauliflower has up its sleeve. You can also use it to make a healthier version of a tater tot or blend it into a creamy “nacho” sauce for your next taco or enchilada night!
  1. Avocado: I’ve had kids gobble up this chocolate avocado mousse recipe (sometimes we crumble a chocolate graham cracker on top and add a sprig of thyme to make “dirt pudding”), but I’m equally intrigued by the idea of a chocolate avocado fudge. For a savory recipe, try mashing a ripe avocado into a package of extra-lean ground turkey breast before forming into burgers and cooking; it helps keep the lean meat from drying out, and if you mash it well, no one will know!
  1. Chickpeas: Hummus is a natural first step when introducing chickpeas to your family, but it’s far from the only option. Try a fruity chickpea smoothie bowl for breakfast, some crunchy roasted chickpeas for an afternoon snack, or my very favorite cookie dough dip for a naturally sweet treat.
  1. Mushrooms: Ah, mushrooms! I know plenty of adults who even struggle with this veggie. The secret is to blend it up really well, which creates a texture very reminiscent of ground meat. Use this trick to stretch the meat in burgers or even make fully-vegetarian meatballs!
  1. Dates: These extremely sweet dried fruits can help you make better-for-you treats for your family. There are so many recipes out there, but I’m particularly partial to these nut-free, homemade versions of Larabars and this raw caramel dip (it’s begging for some apple slices to be dipped into it)! If your family is looking for a chocolate fix, try this DIY chocolate hazelnut spread.
  1. Alternative Flours: When it comes to baking, one of the easiest swaps is to ditch the low-fiber, all-purpose flour. When I’m baking, I almost exclusively use white whole wheat (it’s softer in texture but still fiber-rich) or oat flour, which is inexpensive and easy to make by blending up some rolled oats in a trusty food processor or high-powered blender. Sometimes the result is a bit heartier than you’re used to, but I’ve rarely had anyone complain! If you need some ideas to get started, try out my favorite pizza dough recipe (it freezes well!) or these to-die-for blueberry-carrot muffins.
  1. Bananas: Ok, most parents probably don’t need to do much convincing to get their families to eat more bananas, but have you ever thought about using them in sneaky ways to take the place of other, less nutritious foods? Frozen banana slices become creamy like ice cream when blended patiently (try some creative mix-ins, like with this almond chunky-monkey flavor suggestion), whereas mashed, ripe bananas combine with eggs to make two-ingredient pancakes that are downright magical.
  1. Plain Greek yogurt: With its creamy texture and high protein content, Greek yogurt makes the perfect stand-in for any number of cooking and baking ingredients. One simple idea? Turn it into a dip, like one of these three recipes. I also like to use a dollop of it instead of sour cream on burritos and baked potatoes alike.
  1. Greens: Growing up, I didn’t want anything to do with a leafy green unless it was Iceberg, and then only if drenched in Thousand Island dressing. But then, back then there weren’t such things as super green smoothie bowls, where I could add my own toppings, or vibrant green soups endearingly referred to as “The Hulk” Soup.

Recipes aren’t the only way to get your family more excited about nutritious recipes, though! Be sure to get everyone involved in the entire process, as research shows that the more input they have, the more likely they are to eat whatever is prepared. Have them help you select new recipes; go as a family as often as possible to the store in search of new and exotic ingredients to try; and give everyone age-appropriate tasks when it comes time to make the food. You can also play around with fun shapes and silly names to add an extra bit of excitement!

The most important thing is to not give up. If I can go from a pizza and chicken finger diet to lover of chickpeas and kale chips, anyone can. The secret ingredient is good, old-fashioned Time.

About Jessica Serdikoff – Jessica is a 20-something Registered Dietitian, founder of the blog Floptimism.com, and all-around food enthusiast. After watching her mom and grandmother in the kitchen, Jessica threw herself into the world of cooking and food discovery. She studied nutrition in college, and followed a long path to become a Registered Dietitian. She shares her love of food, cooking and nutrition with the community as a retail dietitian for ShopRite, and as a contributing writer for publications like Healthy Way.

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