Lending moms a hand

How many times have your efforts to make a tasty, nutritious meal for the family been met with tiny upturned noses and demands for chicken nuggets?

Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss know what you face. To lend a hand, these two nutritionists and mothers have come up with The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time (Broadway Books, 2003, $15.95).


The first part of the book is a primer on nutrition and contains a plan to introduce your family to healthful eating in five weeks. The steps are incremental: Add a serving of fruit per day the first week, add a serving of vegetables the next week, etc., until by Week 5 the kids have given up their Cocoa Puffs for Wheat Chex and exchanged their Cheez Doodles for baby carrots.

You have to give Bissex and Weiss credit. They understand the lure of giving kids a quick dinner they will eat. What the authors try to offer are tasty alternatives that can be put on the table just as easily.


Sometimes this merely means exchanging packaged foods that are full of fat, salt and artificial ingredients for more nutritious brands. But it also means making homemade meals more healthful by adding fruit and vegetables in unexpected places and choosing low-fat ingredients.

In the second part of the book, Bissex and Weiss offer 120 recipes for improving such favorites as chicken nuggets, lasagna, and macaroni and cheese.

And while the goal is to get the kids to eat better, the book also tries to liberate Mom from being a short-order cook who makes multiple dinners to please the tastes and schedules of everyone in the family. "Mom is the executive chef," the book says. "[That] implies that you are the 'boss.' "

Of course, this authority can go only so far, and some of the recipes I tried on my family were more successful than others. Weiss and Bissex's alternative to the ubiquitous Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was a failure in my house. I thought the home-made version made with elbow macaroni, low-fat cheddar, parmesan, low-fat milk and garlic-powder seasoning tasted just fine. My kids, who may have missed the familiar fluorescent orange, took one bite and refused to eat more.

The Halftime Taco Chili, which hid carrots and hominy amid more traditional ingredients of ground pork, beans and tomatoes, went over better. They each ate one serving, although balked at leftovers.

But the surprise hit was the Cowboy Breakfast Wraps, which I served one evening for dinner. I thought the kids would take one look at the spinach mixed in the egg filling and stampede from the table, but I was wrong. Both the 2-year-old and the 7-year-old ate the wraps without so much as one disgusted sigh.

A ringing endorsement for this recipe? I would say so.

Cowboy Breakfast Wraps


Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

one 6-ounce bag prewashed baby spinach (about 4 packed cups)

pinch of kosher salt

5 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup preshredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese


four 8-inch flour tortillas

1/4 to 1/2 cup mild salsa

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach wilts, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Add eggs and cheese and cook, stirring frequently, until eggs are set, about 2 minutes. Stack the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, uncovered, and heat in the microwave until warmed through, 30 to 45 seconds.

Assemble the wraps by placing a quarter of the egg mixture down the center of each tortilla. Top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of salsa and wrap burrito-style.