Healthy Soul Food, Your Way

By Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD
Cornbread and greens

bonchan/iStock/Thinkstock

Soul food is a traditional African American cuisine with roots in the Deep South. Many Southern kids grow up eating fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens cooked with pork and sweet potato cake. Traditional soul food can be high in saturated fat, salt and added sugar. Too much of these things can negatively impact your family’s health. But you can embrace those special family recipes by creating healthier soul food, your way.

Rethink the Dinner Plate

  • Teach your kids to fill up on veggies first.
  • Serve your family small portions of high calorie dishes such as macaroni and cheese.
  • Cherish your most decadent dishes. Save them for special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays.

Make Meaningful Swaps

  • Swap solid fats for heart-healthy canola, olive or peanut oils.
  • Train your child’s palate to enjoy healthier options by cutting the calories in macaroni and cheese with sharp, reduced-fat cheese and low-fat milk.
  • Make Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice) with brown rice.
  • Toss up a bowl of healthy potato salad. Substitute half the mayonnaise with plain, non-fat Greek yogurt to slash the fat and maintain creaminess. Add a touch of mustard for extra flavor. Sneak in extra veggies with diced onion, celery and bell pepper.

Reinvent Family Favorites

  • Skip the candied yam sugar rush. Bring out the natural sweetness of sweet potatoes with this simple, kid-approved recipe: oven roast yams or sweet potatoes with cinnamon, vanilla and a little maple syrup or brown sugar.
  • Create juicy, crispy "oven-fried" chicken by soaking it in buttermilk then coating with a blend of panko breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Before baking, add a spritz of canola oil.
  • Slow cook greens in vegetable broth with a drizzle of canola or peanut oil. Sweeten the pot with honey and apple cider vinegar. If collard or turnip greens are too bitter for your child's palate, try cabbage which cooks up a bit sweeter. Serve with baked cornbread sticks for a fun and nutritious meal.
  • Instead of fried okra, roast fresh whole okra until crunchy and dip into your favorite marinara sauce. Kids enjoy dipping!
  • Reinvent that old family favorite. For your peach cobbler, bake peaches with honey and top with oats, toasted almonds and a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt.

Try Something New

  • Use smoked paprika or a sprinkle of smoked salt for savory, smoked flavor instead of ham, bacon or salt pork.
  • Sauté kale or chard in olive oil and garlic for a quick and satisfying side dish.
  • Experiment with vinegars. Apple cider and rice vinegars work with a variety of greens.
  • Try fresh herbs. Instead of smothered chicken, marinate chicken in fresh rosemary and lemon juice overnight. Bake or grill it for a flavorful main dish.

Remember: Soul food traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Just add a new, healthy twist. Or, create new traditions. With the starring role in your child's life, you can shape how they eat.

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