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11 Healthy Twists on Junk Food Classics: From Chicken Nuggets to Mac n' Cheese

When it comes to healthy eating, one of the worst things to do is make it a chore. Because when healthy food is boring, kids (and parents) don’t exactly chow down, which defeats the purpose of making a nutritious meal in the first place. That doesn’t mean that every meal has to be a comfort food, but sometimes it’s a good idea to take a not-so-healthy kid favorite, like pizza or pancakes, and make it healthier. After the jump, check out eleven nutritious updates of everyone’s favorite junk foods!

 

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  • sweet-potato-fries 1 of 15
    sweet-potato-fries
  • Waffles 2 of 15
    Waffles
    Waffles are a special breakfast treat all kids love. Make them healthier by using protein-packed quinoa flour and ripe bananas to add natural sweetness. To make sure no one goes crazy with the maple syrup, consider giving each kid a small jar of the sweet stuff instead of free reign over the giant bottle.
    
Make spiced banana quinoa waffles
  • Pancakes 3 of 15
    Pancakes
    Pancakes are another oft-requested breakfast treat. Give them a nutritious makeover by using whole-grain flour and packing 'em full of veggies — yes, veggies. Vegetables with a natural sweetness, like carrots, zucchini, or beets, can add a lot of nutritional oomph and flavor to weekend breakfasts.
    
Make carrot cake pancakes
  • Pizza 4 of 15
    Pizza
    Pretty much everybody loves pizza, but with lots of carb-rich dough and plenty of fatty cheese, it's not the healthiest dinner around. Breathe new life into this favorite by making your own whole-wheat crust and adding wholesome toppings, like fresh mozzarella, real tomatoes, and mushrooms. 

    
Make whole-wheat pizza
  • Hamburgers 5 of 15
    Hamburgers
    Give greasy drive-thru hamburgers a run for their money with these meat-free patties, packed with healthy white beans and savory flavor. Kids will love 'em because, well, they're still burgers; you'll love 'em because they're rich in protein, vitamins, and fiber.

    
Make white bean burgers
  • French Fries 6 of 15
    French Fries
    Every kid adores french fries, but they're far from healthy, what with all the oil they're dunked in to crisp up. Rehabilitate this junk food staple by skipping the frying pan and baking fries in the oven. Plus, using sweet potatoes adds extra fiber and beta carotene!

    
Make sweet potato fries
  • French Fries 7 of 15
    French Fries
    Every kid adores french fries, but they're far from healthy, what with all the oil they're dunked in to crisp up. Rehabilitate this junk food staple by skipping the frying pan and baking fries in the oven. 

    
Get the recipe for oven fries at Make oven fries
  • Chicken Nuggets 8 of 15
    Chicken Nuggets
    Is your house filled with chicken nugget lovers? Ever wonder how fast food joints hold their chicken mixture together? Two words: meat glue. And that's not all there is to not love about chicken nuggets; they're also frequently packed with sodium, sugar, and additives. So the next time a nuggets craving hits, offer up a healthier alternative with these baked — and meat glue-free! — chicken tenders.
    
Make honey mustard chicken tenders
  • Hamburgers 9 of 15
    Hamburgers
    Give hamburgers a big dose of vitamins by adding an unexpected (but totally healthy) ingredient: cherries! Kids will love 'em because they're wacky; you'll love 'em because they're tasty (and have lots of beta carotene and antioxidants). 

    
Get the recipe for cherry burgers at Brooklyn Supper
  • Mac and Cheese 10 of 15
    Mac and Cheese
    Mac and cheese is a perennial kids fave, and there are actually lots of ways to make it healthier. For starters, ditch the box and make your own from scratch with whole-wheat pasta. Another option is to go low-carb and ditch the "mac" too: try subbing healthy veggies, like parsnips or turnips, instead of pasta.
 We bet kids won't even be able to tell the difference!
    
Make healthy veggie "mac" and cheese
  • Grilled Cheese 11 of 15
    Grilled Cheese
    It's hard to imagine a healthier alternative to this kid-approved comfort food staple when it's made with just three ingredients. But a few modifications, like whole-wheat bread, lower-fat cheese, and a butter alternative, make for a healthier sandwich your kids can sink their teeth into.
    
Make skinny grilled cheese

  • Cookies 12 of 15
    Cookies
    The secret to healthier cookies isn't so much what's not in them, it's what is. Add things like whole grains, dried fruits, seeds, and honey so that your little cookie monsters can get their fix — and their fair share of nutrients. These oatmeal cookies have lots of fiber and healthy dried fruit (bonus points if you can find unsweetened cranberries).
    
Make oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries and ginger
  • Chocolate Cake 13 of 15
    Chocolate Cake
    Whether they crave it at birthday parties or Sunday night dinner, kids love cake. So lighten up a calorie-dense favorite by veganizing it! This airy chocolate cake has plenty of rich chocolate flavor and a wonderful light texture — all it's missing is extra sugar and cholesterol. (We're okay with that.)
    
Make airy vegan chocolate cake
  • Ice Cream 14 of 15
    Ice Cream
    Loaded with fat and sugar (and cookie dough, brownies, and caramel ...), ice cream is a gaping weak spot in many families' healthy eating regimens. Instead of reaching for the store-bought pint, try to keep homemade sorbet on hand. Making it yourself means you can use fresh, healthy ingredients and cut back on the sugar, too. This mango sorbet has big fruity flavor that kids and grown-ups will adore.
    
Make fresh mango sorbet
  • Chicken Noodle Soup 15 of 15
    Chicken Noodle Soup
    Store-bought chicken noodle soup comes with a lot of extra sodium, and is seriously skimpy on the vegetables and chicken. Instead, make a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup form scratch. Our version has plenty of real chicken and is loaded with healthy vegetables like kale, carrots, celery, and mushrooms.

    
Make chicken and vegetable noodle soup

Read more from Elizabeth and Brian on Brooklyn Supper.
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More from Brooklyn Supper on The Family Kitchen:

10 Tips for Eating Organic on a Budget
25 Incredible Chocolate Recipes

5 of the Most Incredible Restaurant Views in the US

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