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Healthy ‘fast’ food swaps for less ‘naughty’ and more nutritious mealtimes

Healthy 'fast' food swaps for less 'naughty' and more nutritious mealtimes by Annabel Karmel

Did you know that half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now ‘ultra-processed’ which means – made in a factory with endless lists of additives and preservatives,  bearing little resemblance to the fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken and fish you would cook at home. Good eating habits are formed from an early age so our role in helping children to make healthy food choices whilst at home, at school, or eating out is incredibly important.

As parents we want our little ones to be fuelled on the right foods, however sometimes it’s one of those ‘easier said than done’ occasions, particularly when they insist on only liking a small handful of failsafe favourites – which are often less than healthy. Sometimes, all kids want is pizza, chips or chicken nuggets and I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of giving into these demands every now and then so as to avoid an ill-timed temper tantrum!

I don’t think it’s about completely changing your routine or suddenly disallowing your family’s foodie favourites, but instead it’s more about making healthier versions of these favourites. I personally like the age-old saying of ‘everything in moderation’. Coming up with fun and healthy ways in which you can prepare your children’s food is a real winner rather than focusing on so-called ‘bad’ foods and denying these.

Here are some of my top swaps for less ‘naughty’ and more nutritious mealtimes:


Krispie Chicken Nuggets

Instead of using batter to coat chicken strips, I like to use Rice Krispies for a light crispy (and yummy) coating – I promise, they’ll soon be requesting my Krispie Chicken Nuggets with the secret ‘snap crackle and pop!’

Children often like to have a side of tomato ketchup with their chicken nuggets and chips. Instead, why not use the BBQ season to your advantage and serve some griddled strips of protein-packed chicken alongside a simple tomato salsa for them to dunk and dip.

Sweet Potato Wedges

It’s no secret that children love chips so why not trade this failsafe favourite for something more vibrant? Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin A, packed full of goodness and are really versatile. Roast wedges in the oven with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and sage as a healthy alternative to chips. They are naturally sweet and baking them in the oven caramelises the natural flavour – they are sure to be a hit.

Cauliflower Pizzas

Who would imagine that grated cauliflower could make a tasty base for a pizza? Make a quick homemade tomato sauce and then simply add your little one’s favourite pizza toppings to keep the takeaway at bay. You can find this tasty recipe in my new Real Food Kids Will Love book. Enjoy!

Hidden Veggie Burgers

Beef burgers can be a fantastic source of iron but it’s always best to make your own so you know exactly what is going into them. Be sure to use good quality lean beef mince and perhaps add some grated apple and carrot – the natural sweetness of the apple will add extra appeal for youngsters and the carrot will help to sneak in some extra veggies.

Use children’s love for this fast food favourite to your advantage and make an Omega-3 filled fish burger. My Salmon & Cod Burgers will ensure that they’re getting a tasty all-important dose of the good stuff.

Tasty Takeaway with a Twist

There is absolutely no harm in ordering in a takeaway for the family as a treat every now and then but it is also fun to get inspired and cook-up you own healthy versions of your take-out favourites. It provides the perfect opportunity to introduce younger family members to exciting new flavour combinations.

A sweet ‘n’ sour sauce for example, is a hands down favourite and kids will love scooping and slurping through a bowl of my Thai Corn & Chicken Laksa. You can very easily create some simple but delicious marinades and sauces that are full of flavour – whisk together a combination of soy, maple syrup and garlic and stir into veggies and rice to bring a flavour-packed  taste of the orient to teatimes.

Kale Crisps

Kale is a culinary superhero, packed full of essential nutrients and vitamins including iron and vitamin K. Get creative with cooking methods and bake these nutritious leafy greens in the oven with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of seasoning for a healthy alternative to a packet of crisps. Divine!

Not so Devilish Deserts

Desserts don’t always need to be considered public enemy no. 1! For example, it’s easy to make a batch of fresh fruit ice lollies from fruit juice and pureed fruits. Alternatively, why not try my Banana Ice Cream recipe – it is quite possibly the easiest pudding to make as all you need is four bananas (and a little patience waiting for it to freeze!)

My No-sugar Chocolate Orange Energy Balls from my new book Real Food Kids Will Love are the perfect sweet treat or on-the-go healthy snack. They are absolutely delicious and no one would know they are made with dates, cacao and cashew nuts rather than butter, sugar and chocolate!

Fizzy ‘pop’

Avoid sugary fizzy drinks and instead make your own sparkling fruit juice. Simply put a handful of berries or pomegranate seeds into a glass and top with sparkling water and some mint for a (naturally) sweet, fresh and zingy kid’s cocktail. Frozen berries work well here as they can double up as ice. Don’t forget to add an umbrella come happy hour!

Annabel’s Real Food Kids Will Love cookbook is packed full of advice, top tips and over 100 simple and delicious recipes which the whole family can enjoy together – from 15 minute meals to healthy fast food favourites, cooking with the kids, lunchbox snacks and more.

Many recipes include handy swap-outs to cater for those with food allergies, intolerances or particularly fussy eaters! There is also a range of meat-free and vegan meal options too, meaning mealtimes can be made healthy and fun for the whole family whatever your family’s foodie preferences. 

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