Television and peers can trump parents when it comes to influencing what children eat, but that doesn't mean families can't fight back.
A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that parents have waning influence over what their kids eat. But it also found that the best defense is to start teaching healthful eating habits early.
Adopting common-sense approaches at home can help:
First, be careful about forbidding certain foods. A good/bad approach often makes less healthful foods more attractive. It also limits children's ability to develop the skills they need to make their own healthful food choices.
Second, quantity matters. The more foods children try, the more likely they will find nutritious ones they enjoy. Give them the option of turning down a new dish as long as they give it a try. The empowering option of refusal often results in a "Hey, I like this," experience.
Third, make healthful foods seem like exciting treats. A colorful fruit salad, homemade whole-grain cookies and English muffin pizzas made with low-fat cheese are all fun foods that can provide your child with valuable nutrients.
Finally, you can always fight fire with fire. These Parmesan-crusted Chicken Fingers have all the flavor and appeal of the greasy fast-food classic, but are baked using an "oven-frying" technique that uses hardly any oil.
Adding Parmesan cheese and tangy Dijon mustard to crunchy, Japanese-style breadcrumbs (panko) gives these easy-to-prepare chicken fingers a sophisticated coating the whole family will enjoy.
Look for panko breadcrumbs in the Asian section of your market. For even more kid appeal, serve the chicken fingers with a homemade honey mustard sauce, or a sweet-and-sour sauce made from apricot jam, cider vinegar, salt, pepper and a drop of hot sauce.
Start to finish: 35 minutes (15 minutes active)
Olive or vegetable-oil cooking spray
2/3 cup panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 egg whites
1 pound chicken tenders
Place a rack in the top third of the oven. Heat the oven to 425 F. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and coat the rack lightly with cooking spray.
In a shallow bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley (if using) and pepper. In another shallow bowl, whisk together the mustard and egg whites until frothy and opaque.
Dip each chicken tender in the egg-white mixture, then in the breadcrumb mixture to coat all sides. Place on the prepared rack.
Spritz the top of each tender lightly and evenly with cooking spray, then turn and repeat on the other side. Bake until the crumb coating is golden brown and crisp and the chicken is no longer pink at the center, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 204 calories; 24 calories from fat; 3 grams fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 72 milligrams cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 32 g protein; 0 g fiber; 339 mg sodium.