Healthy Food Swaps Picky Eaters Might Actually Try

These favorite kid dishes are getting a glow-up

We don’t know your kid, but if yours is anything like ours, they can sniff out a piece of kale hiding in a quesadilla faster than you can pop a straw in a juice box. In other words, getting them to eat healthy stuff isn’t always so easy. But here’s our tip. Don’t be sneaky about it. Instead, be creative and work with what you’ve got. Check out our tried-and-true ways to get your kids to eat healthier—without all of the disguises—because Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Chicken Nuggets

Is there anything that’s been reinvented more than the chicken nugget? We don’t think so. From alphabet shapes to dinosaurs, spicy to sweet, chicken nuggets come in every shape and size. The bad news? They’re often packed with preservatives and sodium. Instead of buying them in bulk, give this panko chicken recipe a go—it’s such an easy healthy food swap. Easy to make in batches, the panko holds its crunch and you can even crisp it up in an air fryer in no time, if you’re eating it throughout the week.

Macaroni & Cheese

Doesn’t every kid love mac & cheese? Who can blame them? And secretly, who doesn’t take a bite out of their leftovers before loading dishwasher? For a healthier riff on mac & cheese, try making a pot of green mac and cheese with spinach, peas and broccoli. The bright color and cheesy, creamy texture rings all the right bells.

Buttered Noodles

What is it about buttered noodles that kids love so much? Oh. Right. There’s butter, and then there are noodles. So it’s pretty perfect on the palate but falls short in nutritive strength. So, we have two options here. Serve it with protein-enriched or whole-grain pasta, or just serve it less frequently (but don’t mess with a masterpiece). We all need a reason to live, right?

Grilled Cheese

Dang it. We like these, too. But for the sake of being “good parents,” let’s explore options with the Grand Dame of Kid Food: The Grilled Cheese. First, switch around your cooking method. Instead of bathing it in a skillet of butter, batch bake them on a sheet with a light mist of olive oil on the pan. Another option is to pack some nutrition into your bread choice. Pass on the white bread and see how sprouted grains pleases your kids, instead. Finally, you can pack it full of spinach, ham, or sliced tomato if you don’t have a purist waiting for lunch to be served. How’s that for healthy food swaps?


Lentils are a great source of protein, which helps keep you full for longer. Since the cooked lentils are pureed and mixed with salsa, they taste like refried beans, and picky eaters will be none the wiser. Check out our recipe for Grilled Lentil Quesadillas for a healthier alternative to the classic.



Anything you pick up or have delivered is going to come with a hefty health bill, when you add up all the salt (and frequently, sugar) found in pizza. But it’s so good. And so easy. Nonetheless, pizza made at home is not only fun, but also free from the hidden health hazards you’ll find in the delivery box. A prime reason to implement a healthy food swap here. Try making personal pizzas on a pita bread base, and let them choose toppings from an assortment of veggies and proteins. You can broil it for a quick fix, or try grilling it for another exciting twist.


We take Taco Tuesday seriously, except sometimes it falls on a Wednesday or Thursday. But weekly tacos are a thing, so keeping the ingredients exciting is key to keeping the kiddos coming back for more. Instead of ground beef, cheese, lettuce and sour cream, try a vegetarian taco night with sauteed beans and mushrooms. home made guac (or hefty avocado slices), diced tomatoes and salsa. Or, go rogue with cheeseburger tacos. Brown turkey and diced onions for the filler, and let them top it with shredded lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and cheese. Basically anything can be adapted to taco form, and we’re here for it. We bet your kids will be, too.


Amp up your spaghetti game by sautéing shredded carrots and zucchini with garlic before dumping your favorite jar of pre-made sauce into the pan to simmer. For meat-lovers, brown some turkey sausage and add a dash of fennel to it to make it seem like Italian sausage. Noodles get an upgrade when you choose whole grain pasta or higher protein pasta, instead of the regular noodles. There are a million ways to add nutrition into spaghetti without sacrificing flavor, but be sure to check the back of your sauce jar—some brands are much worse than others about adding unneeded sugar to their sauce.