3 healthy meal makeovers

Read about three simple and healthy meal makeovers that you and your family will enjoy.

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

3 healthy meal makeovers
©iStockphoto.com/Douglas Freer
Meet the Petersons, a hardworking Canadian couple balancing careers, volunteer work and children – a 14-year-old synchronized skater and an eight-year-old hockey player. They already make healthy food choices, but could use some nutritional upgrades to ensure peak performance at work and at play. Plus, Dad was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol, Mom has high blood pressure and the kids need supercharged snacks to fuel their activities. Let's peek into their pantry and solve their biggest eating problems.

Scenario #1: Mornings are hectic. There's no time to enjoy a sit-down breakfast as a family. Each Peterson eats quickly at the table or grabs something to go. Mom wants the kids to have healthy breakfasts, even when she can't monitor them.

Muesli: Some cereals can be high in sugar and refined grains. Not muesli, a super healthy blend of whole oats, dried fruit and nuts. Many varieties contain no added sugar. Muesli bumps up the Petersons' daily fibre intake. That's key, because most Canadians get only half the recommended amount of this vital nutrient. It's especially good for Dad, since soluble oat fibre can significantly lower cholesterol levels. 

Greek yogurt: With 18 to 21 grams of protein per 125-millilitre serving (more than double the protein content of one 250-millilitre serving of milk), Greek yogurt packs a protein punch that'll help keep the family full all morning. Plus, it's a source of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which work together to help Mom manage her blood pressure levels. 

Dried apricots: Compared with apples, which contain about 50 IU of vitamin A per serving, dried apricots have almost 900 IU per serving (six to seven apricots). Approximately 40 percent of Canadians don't get enough vitamin A, which plays a role in immune-system functioning.  

Prep tip: Mix yogurt and chopped apricots in the muesli and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, simply scoop and serve. With so much goodness packed into one bowl, no parental supervision is required!

Scenario #2: There are just 15 minutes to cook dinner. Mom and Dad frown on takeout, preferring homemade dinner options. Also, because the kids do sports right after dinner, meals need to be snack-size to avoid stomach upset. It's smart for athletic kids to eat half of their dinner before activity and half after.

Salmon: Eating a small serving of protein-rich food is recommended before doing athletic activities, so chicken and salmon are both great options. But salmon's advantage is its omega-3 fat content, which protects the Petersons' cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Salmon is great to serve to kids, since only 22 percent of Canadian children between the ages of four and eight get enough omega-3 fat for optimal development and brain growth.

Brown rice: Compared with white rice, brown has more energizing vitamin B and more bone-building magnesium. It's perfect for eating before sports – it's easy to digest and filled with energy-yielding carbohydrates for peak performance. It's great for adults, too, since it's a whole grain. Enjoying three to five servings of whole grains per day is linked with a 21 percent lower risk of developing heart disease, which is important for people with hypertension or high cholesterol. 

Baby kale: Less bitter than its grown-up counterpart, kid-friendly baby kale is a sweet, leafy green that has more vitamin A, C and K than iceberg lettuce. Plus, it contains iron and calcium, which athletic kids require more of. Kale also has an antioxidant called kaempferol, which may help lower the risk of developing heart disease.  

Prep tip: Buy precut salmon strips, which cook in minutes. Look for parboiled brown rice, because it can be ready in 10 minutes instead of 60. Baby kale is already bite-size; simply rinse and dress. If it's hard to find, try baby spinach instead.

Scenario #3: Snacks are seldom nutrient-dense. The Petersons always carry snacks with them to avoid buying doughnuts or chips, but some of their choices are surprisingly high in salt, refined flour and fat. There are better options.

Nuts: Low in fat, pretzels often make the mom-approved snack list. The truth? They are an unhealthy mix of white flour and salt. Choose unsalted nuts instead. Nuts are brimming with fibre and magnesium, and eating a quarter-cup serving at least five times a week can lower the risk of heart disease by 37 percent. Plus, nuts contain iron, which carries oxygen to muscles. It's critical for children to have good iron stores for energy.

Soynut butter: Skip the ranch dip, which is high in fat and salt, and devoid of protein and vitamins. Instead, dunk carrots, sweet peppers and cucumbers into soynut butter. Just two tablespoons of this peanut butter alternative contains seven grams of quality protein. Plus, soy protein is linked with reduced cholesterol levels in adults.

Milk: Compared with apple juice, milk has almost twice as much potassium, a mineral many Canadians don't get enough of. Potassium is important for
normal digestive, heart and muscular functions, and it plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. Plus, while many fruit juices have no calcium, milk has an impressive 300 milligrams, and is essential for bone growth in children.

Prep tip: If nuts are banned in school due to allergies, pack sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead. Soynut butter is tree nut– and peanut–free. If you have no access to refrigeration, carry single-serve Tetra Pak cartons of milk, which stay fresh all day.


This story was originally titled "Super Meal Makeovers" in the November 2013 issue.

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