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Healthful meals with kid appeal

As we embark on this new year, I predict most parents are resolving to improve the family's eating habits.

It's an ongoing battle we all face in these busy times: avoiding drive-thru cuisine, yet hating the at-home alternatives that add another level of chaos in the kitchen.

For those of you seeking practical guidance that's been developed and time-tested by genuine professionals, you need to jump onto a wonderful website: Meal Makeover Moms — healthful meals with kid appeal (mealmakeovermoms.com). Since 2004, with the publication of their first book, "The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time," ($15.95, soft cover, Broadway Books) authors Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss, have been helping families eat better.

With a beg-your-pardon to all you cooking dads, these two cooking moms bring hefty credentials to the dinner table. For starters, both are registered dietitians.

Bissex is a former dietitian for the U.S. Senate and has consulted for restaurants and food companies.

Weiss is an award-winning television journalist who has covered health and nutrition stories for PBS and CNN.

Bissex, mother of two girls, and Weiss, mother of two boys, understand the daily challenges parents face when mealtime rolls around. That's why their recipes are all "mom-tested and kid-approved," and their mealtime tips are realistic and practical.

They begin with a five-step plan to make healthy eating a natural and enjoyable part of everyday life — even in the midst of your chaotic schedule:

1. Start somewhere. Add one extra serving of fruit each day.

2. Market good nutrition to your kids. Tout carrots as yummy, not medicine.

3. Establish food rules. Make them specific, reasonable and enforceable.

4. Streamline time in the kitchen. Maximize timesaving tools and tactics.

5. Eat together as a family. And turn off the television during dinner.

Beyond that, Bissex and Weiss offer friendly yet practical advice, lots of encouragement and a winning repertoire of kid-tested recipes.

Based on the goal of getting kids to come to the table with a happy face, the authors have taken popular family favorites like spaghetti and meatballs, chili, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and chocolate-chip cookies and given them a nutrition makeover. Their criteria are simple, say the authors: "Weave super nutrition into each recipe ... making it healthier than the original, maintaining or improving the flavor and speeding up the prep and cook time whenever possible."

Throughout their books and website newsletters (A nine-year archive of great reading!), the authors have woven layers of encouragement and support, stressing that cooks shouldn't feel guilty when they fall back on convenience and fast foods. In that vein, they offer a roundup of the best tasting and most nutritious convenience foods on the market (all kid-tested), plus quick-fix tips for revving up the good nutrition with mix-ins, toppings and side dishes.

Their website also provides a virtual smorgasbord of helpful tools for consumers: cooking videos and a monthly e-newsletter, an award-winning blog, "Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen," and a radio podcast, "Cooking With the Moms." There are even recommendations for restocking the pantry, refrigerator and freezer with the most healthful cooking oils, canned soups, peanut butter, ketchup, dry pasta, salsa, low-fat dairy products, eggs, cold cuts, frozen veggies and more.

A sampling of things you'll learn on their website and in their books:

  • Homemade chicken nuggets take just minutes to prepare and contain three times the protein of most commercial brands.
  • Adding a can of black beans to your favorite beef taco recipe doubles the fiber.
  • Cookies made with canola or olive oil can taste just as good, if not better, than those made with butter (but you may have to adjust the recipe).
  • On average, American children get 10 percent of their daily calories from fast food.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.