This is the third article in our four-part series on connecting with your children through family food traditions. Don’t miss part 1: Creating Happy Kitchen Memories for Your Kids, part 2: Cherish Old Family Recipes, Start New Traditions and part 4: Cooking Lighter: 5 Favorite Family Recipes Revamped.
One of the joys of everyday family dinners is sharing meals that have been handed down through the generations—treasured recipes from your parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, given to them from their elders, back through the years, establishing your family’s culinary heritage.
I can’t wait to share my family’s recipes with my son when he is old enough to manage all the prep and cooking. Until that time, he watches me cook and we enjoy the meals at our table: Mom’s noodle kugel, Grandma’s fried chicken, my aunt’s chicken paprikash with butter dumplings.
But as you probably notice from their names, a lot of these delicious heritage recipes contain lots of fats, carbohydrates and salt; a throwback to times when calories were precious for days full of labor for adults and active play for kids—and snacks were not on offer.
These days we live a much more comfortable existence, and whether for good or bad, our kids do not lead the active lifestyle of our parents and grandparents. We require less calories, less fats and less carbs, and contemporary cuisine reflects these facts.
So how do we bring our traditional foods into the 21st century, so we can honor our heritage but still be able to serve these meals with a clear conscious?
5 Simple steps
Actually, it’s not difficult to find ways to trim the fat, as it were. Here are 5 easy steps you can take to bump your favorite recipes’ nutritional profiles in your favor:
- Choose lean meats. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Not always. Remember, people choose a well-marbled steak for a reason: flavor. So if you are subbing lean ground turkey breast for 85% ground beef in your favorite meatloaf recipe, you need to up the flavor profile in other ways to procure the tender, juicy mouthfeel of the original.
- Swap out cream for a bechamel sauce made with low-fat milk. Even with the butter roux used as the base of this sauce, it will still be lower in fat and calories than heavy cream.
- Vegetables are your friends. Ever wonder why some sauces are so rich? Almost all traditional French recipes start with a miripoix—a chopped mix of onions, celery and carrots. Starting with this culinary “holy trinity” will add tons of flavor to ordinary stock-based sauces (and they add a few choice vitamins and minerals as a bonus).
- Use fresh ingredients. Again, this is all about the flavor. The better the ingredients, the better the flavor, especially when you are depending on those flavors to shine. High-quality star ingredients are also important. In the Fettuccine Alfredo recipe below, using a great Parmigiano Reggiano is key when you don’t have heavy cream to fall back on.
- Use real butter, eggs and oils. This may seem counterintuitive, but the fake stuff tastes, well, fake. Unless you have true dietary restrictions, there are no reasons to use alternative butters—especially not margarine, egg substitute or flavorless “light” oils. Just use less. A little goes a long way.