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Healthy Bites

Comfort Food Shapes Up

As winter's chill sets in, so does the craving for warm, hearty meals. But as satisfying as they are, classic comfort foods like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken pot pie generally pack way too much fat. Fortunately, you can easily slim down some perennial favorites -- without losing the flavor:

  • Meat Loaf Swap ground beef for ground turkey breast and slash meat loaf's hefty 23 grams of fat per serving down to a still satisfying 14.
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs You can also substitute ground turkey in this favorite, and pare each serving from 21 grams of fat to 13.
  • Chicken Pot Pie Skip the bottom crust and use only the top, and the fat in pot pie drops from 31 to 21 grams per serving. Make this dish even leaner by using broth thickened with pureed potatoes -- rather than a cream base -- for the filling, suggests Riska Platt, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
  • Pancakes Each flapjack loses 3 grams of fat (from 6 down to 3) when you use egg whites instead of whole eggs (2 whites=1 whole egg) and buttermilk or skim milk instead of whole.

Keep in mind that not all cold-weather dishes serve up high amounts of fat, so don't overlook pot roast and beef stew -- which can be made with leaner cuts of meat -- and mushroom barley and lentil soups -- which are made with the tiniest bit of fat (usually just a little oil to saute the onions).

Passing On Good Taste

Need one more reason to consider breastfeeding your baby? Research suggests it's then easier to introduce solids, because infants who nurse are more willing to try new foods.

According to studies by Leann Birch, Ph.D., a children's nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University, breast milk transmits food flavors from a mother's diet, which helps ready an infant for "real" foods. Birch and her colleagues found that breastfed babies more readily accept foods like peas and green beans than formula-fed babies, who are exposed to the same formula flavor day after day.

What if your baby is formula-fed? Don't worry: The more often you offer a new food, the more likely it is your child will eat it.

Taking Batter Care

In some families, licking the mixing bowl is as much a holiday tradition as baking festive cookies and cakes. The problem: Most raw batter contains uncooked eggs -- the primary source of the bacteria salmonella -- so even a finger swipe means risking a run-in with food poisoning.

Though the odds of getting salmonella poisoning from raw eggs are relatively small, the number of cases in the United States is rising because of strong new strains of the bacteria, as well as unsafe food-handling practices. Toddlers, pregnant women, and those with a weak immune system are particularly vulnerable to infection. Symptoms can appear from 12 to 36 hours after eating and include abdominal pains, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, fever, and headache.

Your family's best line of defense, according to the Food and Drug Administration: Steer clear of uncooked eggs in raw batter and dough, and avoid using them in recipes that don't require cooking, such as homemade mayonnaise, salad dressings, and sauces.

If your child's pleas to lick the mixing bowl are just too great to bear, consider using a pasteurized egg product, located next to the eggs at most grocery stores. It will have undergone a heating process that kills salmonella. Another way to appease kids who are begging for batter: Buy premade cookie batter or ice cream with cookie dough. The eggs in these products are also pasteurized.

A+ Nutrition

All produce is not created equal: To get the most vitamin A from your fruits and vegetables, buy the darkest orange, red, yellow, and leafy green ones you can find. Vitamin A -- especially plentiful in carrots, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, and winter squash -- helps keep vision sharp and skin, bones, and teeth in top form.

Snack Attack

Q. Is it okay for a constantly hungry preschooler to snack all day, even if it lessens his appetite for meals?

A. Kids' energy needs are about two to three times that of adults, but they don't have adult-size stomachs to eat what they need in one sitting, so snacking is definitely in order. The key is to make sure most of what he munches on is nutritious. To teach good eating habits, consider limiting him to two or three scheduled snacks a day. "A child who nibbles all the time can fall in the trap of eating when he's not hungry, which can lead to overeating later on," says Patty Morse, a pediatric dietitian at Loyola University Medical Center, in Chicago.

Try offering a bite two to three hours after breakfast or lunch, but at least two hours before his next meal. If he's hungry, an evening snack is fine as well. When possible, have him sit at a table -- not in front of the TV or computer. Distractions can make a child feel he hasn't really tasted his food, which means he's likely to feel hungry again sooner.

Smart Munchies
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Cut-up veggies with a low-fat dip or salsa
  • Banana pops (banana dipped in yogurt and rolled in crushed breakfast cereal; serve frozen or unfrozen on a stick)
  • Quesadilla (soft tortilla with cheese melted inside)

Daryn Eller is working on a book about boosting energy.