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Adults love kids' meals just as much as kids, but they aren't always the most nutritious (or sophisticated) options. Here's how to make adult versions of kid-friendly classics, so you don't have to whip up two different meals.

Isadora Baum
July 17, 2018

When it comes to kids’ favorite meals, they’re ours, too. But, we might feel a bit guilty digging into a sandwich of American cheese on white bread for lunch or a big bowl of spaghetti right before bed. Luckily, there are a few ways to make these basic comfort foods a bit more sophisticated and adult-friendly. And, who knows—your kids might love them too, as they’re flavorful and discreet when it comes to adding in more nutritional perks.

PB & J With Fresh Jam

Kids love PB & J on white toast—with crusts cut off, of course. Yet, for an adult take on this kid-friendly comfort food, you can use a “gourmet,” healthier nut butter and a homemade jam that’s packed with antioxidants, good fats, and fiber.

Make your peanut butter healthier by swapping the kids’ Skippy or JIF for freshly ground nut butter, which you can make at a local grocery store, like Whole Foods, or a brand that uses solely nuts. “Buy natural peanut butter that is made from just peanuts and either make your own simple jam at home or buy ones that have as few ingredients as possible,” says New York City based, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD.

To make your own jam, mix fruit, water, and any other natural sweeteners or ingredients in a saucepan to simmer over low heat. Try Rizzo’s 3-Ingredient Blueberry Chia Jam for a major adult upgrade.

By making a pure jam that contains only natural sugar and has some healthy fats, you’re making your PB & J both fancy and better for you.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

It might be “basic” when it comes to pasta dishes, but you really can’t go wrong. The problem with packaged meatballs you might buy for easy kids’ meals? “Meatballs are sometimes made with low-quality, high-fat meat, especially if you’re buying the frozen version,” she says.

“Instead, I suggest making your own from scratch with a lean and high-quality meat, or subbing in lentils for the meat in the recipe. And if you’re using a jarred sauce, look for one that is just a few simple ingredients, like Rao’s,” she says. You want one that contains only tomatoes and simple spices for some flavor.

For an adult-friendly twist, add in veggies and legumes to the meatballs to cut down on fat and still get some good protein and fiber in. (Rizzo has a great veggie meatball recipe for any adult palate, if you’re ditching the meat 100%.) And, since they’re lathered in a rich sauce, your kids probably won’t notice if you’re serving a veggie meatball dish for dinner, too.

You can also keep some meat to make the transition easier. “You could sub in lentils for half the meat in traditional meatballs,” she says. Add in some veggies for color, flavor, and nutrition—try carrots, garlic, and onion. “They get chopped finely and added into the mix (raw) and cooked in the oven with the meatball,” she says.

RELATED: Our Nutritionist Lightened Up Traditional Spaghetti and Meatballs

Pizza

Greasy, cheesy pizza is a classic kids’ happy meal. And, adults, too—but we’re more worried about that excess fat and calories. Luckily, it’s easy to upgrade standard cheese pizza to make it more suitable for adults.

First off, you can experiment with crusts, like cauliflower crust, which already saves you carbs and makes the pizza seem a bit more sophisticated. Secondly, you can add in some higher quality ingredients, like figs and ricotta or pesto and burrata, for gourmet flair. Or, try Brussels sprouts with goat cheese and an egg on top. 

Lastly, add in those veggies. “If you want to make your own, I suggest chopping up veggies very finely,” says Rizzo for a healthy topping. If you’re eating it for date-night, let those babies shine. But, if your kids are joining you, here’s a tip: put them on top of the sauce and under the cheese, she says. “Chances are your kids won’t be able to tell the difference,” she adds. (Check out more healthy pizza recipes here.)

Grilled Cheese

“This is similar to PB&J in that it’s traditionally made with low-quality cheese on white bread,” she says. Swap the bread for a hearty whole grain for an adult palate and use a higher quality cheese, like Cabot Cheddar, she says. “You can also use olive oil to brush the bread, instead of butter,” she adds. Or, even truffle oil for a bigger flavor punch!

What’s a high-quality cheese? Look for ones that have milk as the first ingredient and not many fillers (some processed cheeses are listed as water first and then milk), she says. “[These] would definitely have more calcium and protein. I also like Organic Valley of BelGiosio for fresh mozzarella,” she says.

RELATED: 30 Grilled Cheese Makeovers

Pancakes

You know how moms decorate kids’ pancakes with smiley faces or cook them in different shapes in the pan? That’s because they’re the ultimate children’s breakfast staple. But, adults sure do love them, too.

Instead of just white flour pancakes with maple syrup, take this opportunity to jazz up the recipe for a fun adult take. First off, keep the ingredients pure, like we do in our Healthy Whole-Grain Pancakes

“Pancakes are really easy to make from scratch with just a few simple ingredients, like flour, eggs and milk,” she says. Then, add in toppings, such as Greek yogurt and citrus zest, a dollop of ricotta or cottage cheese and fresh berries or grapes, or a scoop of fancy nut butter, like cashew or hazelnut.

And, “if you’re feeling really adventurous, try this recipe that uses mashed bananas and oats. And I also suggest topping them with pure maple syrup, rather than the junky bottled syrup, because it’s a natural sweetener that is derived directly from the maple tree’s sap and it’s free of any weird coloring or additives,” she says.

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