Like most parents, you’re always looking for simple ways to get your kids to eat healthier. One tried-and-true way to give your kids’ health a boost is to replace a less nutritious ingredient with a similar, more nutritious one. A great example: yogurt. It’s packed with nutrients, and with its smooth texture and mild flavor, it can easily be used in several types of recipes.
“Yogurt is a super choice for kids, both as a healthy snack and an ingredient in cooking or baking,” says Emia Oppenheim, Ph.D., a nutritionist and writer of the blog Healthy Kids Healthy Families. “It’s a versatile ingredient. And it’s so adaptable because it’s both sweet and sour.”
Yogurt: a Healthy Substitute
Yogurt is the perfect “substitute” food because of its many health benefits. It’s a rare source of probiotics (healthy live cultures) for kids, and it’s also rich in protein, calcium, vitamins B2 and B12, potassium and magnesium, notes Oppenheim. Yogurt is also a good source of vitamin D and calcium, she says. This is important because kids are drinking less milk these days — but they need these essential nutrients in order to build skeletal health.
Another bonus? Yogurt is great for young tummies. Yogurt’s live cultures have been shown to limit gastrointestinal problems such as lactose intolerance, constipation and diarrhea. The thinking is it rebalances the gut’s distribution of bacteria, and the good bacteria are able to outnumber the unhealthy bacteria. “For kids, this can be especially true after they have had to take antibiotics or had a gastrointestinal illness,” says Oppenheim. (Of course, always check with your doctor first before drastically changing your child’s diet, and always heed his or her advice, especially during or after an illness.)
In an after-school snack rut? Try making a “yogurt bar,” suggests Oppenheim — it’s a snack she makes with her own kids. Start with a plain whole-milk yogurt that’s low in sugar, and have your kids fill their bowl with that to start. Then they can pick their favorite toppings to add and create a very healthy version of an ice cream sundae. “The bar can have pineapple bits, apple slices, banana chips, cereal pieces, walnuts, vanilla extract, granola and often a little maple syrup. (You still end up with well under 20 mg of sugar with that last addition.) For moms and dads, a little espresso in yogurt is divine.”
Veggies With Yogurt Dip
You’ve noticed that your kids wolf down chopped veggies when they’re served with a tasty dip. However, the sour-cream-based dip they love so much is packed with sodium, saturated fat and artificial flavors. Try swapping out their favorite dip for an “herbed-up” yogurt, Oppenheim suggests. “Try a half teaspoon of dried garlic powder, a half teaspoon of any fresh herbs you have (mint, oregano, thyme, basil) chopped thin and added to one cup of plain, whole-milk yogurt. Mix this well and serve with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers or any other veggies your kids enjoy,” she says.
Healthier Comfort Foods
Everyone loves comfort food like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and baked goods. Unfortunately with ingredients like sour cream and butter added in, these aren’t always the healthiest dishes to serve your family — unless you make some clever substitutions. Yogurt is a healthy alternative that can be used as a substitute for a variety of ingredients found in your favorite foods. Use this yogurt substitution guide as a reference to see how you can swap yogurt for ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, and butter.
Frozen Yogurt Squeeze Tubes
While it’s fun to take family trips to the local ice cream shop in the summertime, it’s probably best not to make it a nightly ritual. A fun alternative is freezing tubes of yogurt, says Oppenheim. Her own kids enjoy this frozen treat in the warmer months. “They love the sweet coolness,” she says. “And I love that they feel like they’re having an ice-cream treat, but they’re eating something that has less sugar, more protein and more calcium.”
Jaime Budzienski has contributed to the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine and the Boston Parents Paper. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College and a master’s degree in education from UMass Boston.