2-in-1 Dishes: Recipes to Feed the Whole Family

Entrees that will please both picky kids and their picky parents

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

You want to make your kids happy and fix the foods they ask for -- you know you do. In a recent study done with 12 groups of mothers of children aged 2-5, 100% of the groups said they prepared foods their children liked and accommodated requests. And you know all too well which foods hold the "most requested" positions: macaroni and cheese (from the box), hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, chicken nuggets, etc.

You may well be wondering how you and your spouse can possibly sit down to another plate of these foods. But if you serve a sizzling shrimp stir-fry or a tantalizing Thai chicken dish, your kids will revolt. Or worse, they simply won't eat it. According to Adam Drewnowski, PhD, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Washington, food preferences are determined by many factors -- but mostly, by age.

"Studies have looked at the relationship between food preferences of parents and their children -- forgetting one thing: parents and kids are never the same age. Kids are always younger!" notes Drewnowski.

"Although a newborn is born with a preference for sweet, no newborn human, or animal for that matter, has ever been born with a preference for bitter, spicy, or irritating substances," explains Julie Lumeng, MD, of the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development.

When a child rejects spicy food at dinner, parents may want to consider how truly odd it is that they themselves find the spiciness palatable, adds Lumeng. She says that a preference for spicy foods develops over time in response to the environment and watching others enjoy these foods (of course, it never develops in some people).

"Before looking critically upon the 'picky' neighbor child next door, consider the complex biological underpinnings of these behaviors," urges Lumeng. "Scientists are just beginning to unravel these relationships."

Not only are most moms trying to fix foods their kids will eat, they're also trying to prepare healthful meals. While children (and many of the rest of us) appear to prefer sweet and fatty foods, it is possible to serve healthful dishes that your children will like. I see it happen all the time!

To prove it to you, I've come up with some "2-in-1" recipes to help you easily fix two nutritious entrees from one entree recipe -- one that pleases the kids and one designed to tantalize the grown-up palate

Here are a few examples of how 2-in-1 dishes work:

  • Pan-fried cheeseburgers for the kids can become pattie melts on rye for the grown-ups.
  • Chicken & cheese quesadillas for the kids can become mu shu chicken for the grown-ups. (Use flour tortillas for the mu shu wraps and bottled hoisin sauce, bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, etc., to make a quick filling.)
  • Hot dogs (less fat) for the kids can become grilled onion and turkey kielbasa sausage sandwiches on a French roll for the grown-ups.
  • Spaghetti with monster meatballs for the kids becomes meatball sandwiches for the grown-ups.
  • Roast chicken with buttered noodles for the kids becomes roast chicken with brown butter and Mizithra cheese over pasta for the grown-ups.
  • Ham and cheese sandwiches (cold or grilled) become reuben sandwiches for the grown-ups.
Get the picture?

With 2-in-1 dishes, everyone's happy -- especially you. The grown-ups win because they get to eat something other than those greasy nuggets, and their kids are eating healthier, home-cooked versions of their favorites. The kids win because they sit down to a dinner they like.

With the recipes below, even the doctor wins because each is as lean as taste allows, with an emphasis on replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. I've added fruits, vegetables, and lower-fat dairy products whenever possible to pump up their nutritional score. (Each recipe I list below also has suggested ways that children can help with the cooking.)

And now for the recipes ?

Macaroni & Cheese (for kids)
Spicy Spinach and Turkey Sausage Pasta (for grownups)

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 1/2 cups hearty stew/chili + 1 cup vegetables without added fat, OR 1 serving lean/moderate fat meat without added fat + 3/4 cup starch foods with fat + 1 cup vegetables without added fat

You won't mind when your kids ask for macaroni and cheese because you'll be having a colorful, spicy pasta dish instead.

1 box (7.25 oz) macaroni & cheese dinner
2 tablespoons butter or canola margarine
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4 ounces turkey polska kielbasa, diced (such as Hillshire Farms)
10 ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and lightly drained
1 teaspoon minced or chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1/4 cup grated, reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
Ground black pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes (optional)

  • Bring 6 cups of water to boil in large saucepan. Stir in macaroni noodles and boil rapidly for 7-0 minutes until macaroni is tender. Drain in colander, and then add the noodles back to the saucepan.
  • Add butter, milk, and contents of sauce packet to the hot noodles in saucepan, and stir until smooth and creamy over very low heat. Turn off heat and set aside.
  • Coat another large saucepan or skillet with canola cooking spray, and then brown the onion and turkey polska kielbasa over medium heat, stirring frequently. When onion and sausage are nicely browned, add spinach, garlic, and broth to the saucepan and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until the broth has disappeared.
  • Stir in half the macaroni & cheese mixture and the grated cheese, and cook a minute or two longer. Add pepper and red pepper flakes to taste, if desired. Dish up the macaroni & cheese for the kids and the Spicy Spinach and Turkey Sausage Pasta for the grown-ups. A cold spinach or green salad goes well with this.


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