Finicky eaters don't fluster Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex. The mothers and registered dietitians turn snubbed vegetables into tasty recipes with kid appeal.
"You can make the healthiest meal in the world, but if it doesn't taste good, no one's going to eat it," says Weiss, 50, of Lexington, Mass. (pop. 31,394).
She and Bissex, 51, who call themselves "Meal Makeover Moms," published their first cookbook, The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers, in 2004. The moms met in the early 1990s when Weiss reported on nutrition for CNN and Bissex served as a nutrition consultant for the U.S. Senate. Over lunch in 2000, they talked about parents who struggled to encourage healthful eating by kids who balk at broccoli and other greenery on their plates.
"News was just starting to bubble up about kids and obesity, and we wanted to show families how to give the diet a healthy makeover," says Weiss, mother of Simon, 12, and Josh, 16. Readers welcomed their makeovers of kid favorites, such as macaroni and cheese made with whole-wheat pasta to boost the fiber and vitamins.
"We weave in good nutrition," says Bissex, of Melrose, Mass. (pop. 26,983), mother of Leah, 11, and Carolyn, 19.
Today, the Meal Makeover Moms have thousands of followers through their website, blog and weekly radio podcasts, and their feedback inspired the moms' recent cookbook, No Whine with Dinner. Surveying 600 mothers about their biggest challenges in getting kids to eat nutritious food, they were surprised to find that lack of time and the high cost of groceries didn't top the list.
"The No. 1 obstacle is picky eaters who complain and whine," Bissex says. "That's why we had moms and kids test all of our recipes. They gave us feedback, and we tweaked the recipe. We kept going until we got it right."
The result is 150 "whine-free" recipes for snacks, desserts and meals, including autumn comfort casseroles. The Meal Makeover Moms weave vegetables into the casseroles and limit the use of butter, high-fat cheese and creamy soups to enhance nutrition.
Christa Wilson, 30, mother of three in Plymouth, Wis. (pop. 8,445), discovered the Meal Makeover Moms two years ago and regularly uses their recipes. She served Chicken and Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole at a health fair and often bakes Chock-Full-O-Veggies Lasagna.
"The best thing about the lasagna is you chop up the veggies very small," Wilson says. Her two older children, Ryan, 5, and Grant, 2, don't like to eat chunky vegetables.
The Meal Makeover Moms pay attention to kids' preferences for food textures. "If you open a jar of pasta sauce and it has big chunks of tomato, it's going to turn kids off," Weiss says. "But pureed, kids love it."
Four vegetables-mushrooms, onions, zucchini and carrots-are sautéed for the filling for Chock-Full-O-Veggies Lasagna and produce a smooth filling.
"You shred the carrots on a box grater with large holes so they cook quickly and get nicely incorporated. You don't get this in-your-face veggie feeling from it," Bissex says.
Even with a little greenery showing, the meal gets a thumbs-up, instead of a snub, from picky eaters.