A challenge faced by many is to re-create foods they love in a healthier way. It is an even bigger challenge to sell that substitute to children! Let’s not fool ourselves . . . children aren’t going to be easily sold on tofu and bean sprout wraps as a substitute for their roast beef and cheese sandwiches. Just trying to get my niece to substitute brown rice for white rice was a battle fit for warriors! However, it is the small changes that lead to healthier habits for life. Many favorite dinner staples for children include fatty foods, highly processed carbs, and minimal veggies. But, with some simple changes, some of those favorites can be made with a simple twist and be deemed equally satisfying. Even by some of food’s biggest critics: children.
Problem: Everyone—children and adults—loves taco night! Unfortunately, traditional tacos are loaded with fatty ground beef, handfuls of cheese, sour cream, and fried corn shells. So, how do we sell a healthier substitute that is close to the original?
Solution: Replacing hard corn taco shells with lettuce wraps is a common taco trade, but unless all the flavors are right, kids don’t identify anything wrapped in lettuce as yummy. Instead of taking out all the taco flavors children love, keep many of them in while swapping out good for bad. A little creative presentation can go a long way in altering the consumption of the less healthy ingredients.
To start, replace traditional ground beef with a healthier protein choice like lean ground turkey. Add in traditional taco spices like garlic, chili and onion powder, paprika, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Or, for more convenience, buy a prepackaged taco spice packet at your local grocery store. Then, cut up chunks of veggies and mix them right in with the protein so that they are actually part of the mixture and no longer an optional topper. Place the protein and vegetable mix in one bowl, and additional toppings like shredded cheese, mashed avocado, and tortilla strips in additional bowls. The avocado acts as a replacement for the creaminess of sour cream, and the tortilla strips are the familiar crunch and saltiness of a traditional taco, without the indulgence. You can find these strips in most grocery stores alongside other salad accessories. If you can’t find bags of shredded tortilla strips, simple break up a portion of regular tortilla chips and have that in a bowl as your assembly topper.
Now, get your kids involved by allowing them to assemble their lettuce wraps with the seasoned turkey mixture and all the fixings! Be mindful of the portions you put out for assembly. The protein should be in big bowls while the toppers should be in small bowls. Take the time to explain that the protein is the base of the meal (and should be eaten in a larger portion) and the toppers are just that—toppers.
Buying Tip: For the healthiest and best quality ground turkey, ensure that the package specifies that it is 99 percent lean. Lower quality ground turkey omits this information on the package when they mix in turkey parts other than breasts.
- Bulk up the mixture. If your child seems to load more cheese in their taco than turkey and veg, mix the cheese right in the mixture to control the balance. If they insist on having that sour cream flavor, add a small spoonful to the mixture and slowly wean them off. Remember, change takes time, so start with small changes.
- Salsa as an ingredient. Mix together chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeño, and squeeze in some lime juice to make your own salsa. This healthy topper reminds us of that authentic Tex-Mex flavor without adding any badness.
- Play with your proteins. Shredded or diced grilled chicken is another great healthy ground beef substitute that holds all that taco flavor. Play around with your spices or spice mixtures to turn it into a tasty, (almost) traditional taco!