Put love on the table

Kids love all holidays, no matter how big or small—and Valentine’s Day is no exception. Ranking right up there in popularity with tiny valentine cards exchanged among classmates are boxes of pastel-tinted conversation hearts, foil-wrapped chocolates and, of course, cupcakes with a mile-high mound of red and pink frosting.

Kids simply expect something tasty when they hear the word"treat.” Adults, on the other hand, especially around Valentine’s Day, are showered with different gifts of love, ranging from jewelry to massages. Since our little ones aren’t necessarily ready for gems or gifts of a more mature variety, why not show your love with a heart-healthy meal for the whole family instead.

For years, fats in foods were targeted as the culprit of obesity. Now, of course, we know eating appropriate amounts of good fat doesn’t cause obesity. Yet when we see something that is"fat-free,” we tend to gravitate to it as a healthy food, including foods for our children. These fat-free foods, such as juices, fruit leathers and lots of sugary candies are loaded with empty calories that do more harm than good. Unrefined foods, such as fruits, whole grains and vegetables, are full of the nutrient-rich carbohydrates our kids need for energy. Meats, fish and legumes, such as chicken, lean beef or beans are a great source of protein that help our kids restore muscles to help them grow strong. Lastly, we can’t forget about healthy fats from cheeses, nuts and oils that help our kids’ bodies with crucial functions, such as brain development.

Eating foods that have a balanced amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats can be made for breakfast, lunch, dinner and yes, even Valentine’s Day desserts. If you have an hour to prepare an extra special heart-healthy meal that your entire family will love, give it a shot.

• Unlike vegetable oils, coconut oil stays stable when heated, which means it won’t break down or lose its flavor. What’s more, it contains no cholesterol and has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

Baked Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut length-wise into 1-inch strips1 Tbsp. coconut oil1/3 c. honey1/3 c. yellow mustard1 tsp. dried basil¼ tsp. dried parsley9 by 13-inch pan

Sweet meets savory in this perfect entrée both grown-ups and kids enjoy.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop about one tablespoon of coconut oil in 9 by 13-inch pan and place in the oven until oil becomes liquid (about 2 minutes). In the meantime, combine honey, mustard, basil and parsley in a small bowl.

Remove pan from oven and lay chicken strips in the pan. With a basting brush or spoon, cover one side of the chicken strips with the honey mustard mixture. Place in oven for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Turn chicken strips over and use the remaining mixture to coat the other side. Return pan to oven for another 5-7 minutes, or until the middle of the strips are no longer pink and juices run clear. Serves: 4

Roasted Winter Vegetables

This succulent side dish caramelizes as it roasts, so there is no need for a lot of extra seasoning. If you’re preparing this side with the honey mustard chicken, start this one first. Root vegetables always take a little extra time to cook.

1 large baking potato1 large sweet potato½ pound carrots1 large yellow onion1 Tbsp. coconut oil, dividedSalt and pepper to taste2 baking sheets

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop half of the oil on one baking sheet and the remaining half on another baking sheet. Warm both sheets in the oven for about 2 minutes until oil becomes liquid. After all vegetables are washed and peeled, cut both potatoes and onions into 1-inch cubes and carrots into½-inch circles. Place vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheets and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and turn vegetables over. Return to oven and roast for another 20 minutes or until the tops of the vegetables are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Serves: 4

Strawberry Cheesecake Cups

Not all desserts need to be laden in refined sugar. These cheesecake cups are a great example. If strawberries aren’t your favorite, feel free to add any other berry.

1 8-ounce package of low fat cream cheese

½ c. light ricotta cheese

1½ Tbsp. sugar

½ tsp. orange zest

3 c. fresh, sliced strawberries

2 graham crackers (optional)

cinnamon (optional)

Combine all ingredients, except strawberries and cinnamon, in a bowl. Mix well, cover and chill overnight. In four ramekins or small bowls, break apart the graham crackers (if using) and sprinkle over the bottoms. Divide the cream cheese mixture and place into each of the bowls. Do the same with the strawberries. Sprinkle with cinnamon (optional) and serve. Serves: 4

Traci Danielson Mitchell is a Chicago-based nutrition coach and health writer. She provides family nutrition services through her company, DM Nutrition& Fitness. Reach her online at www.dmnutrition.com or e-mail her at traci@dmnutrition.com.

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