Making Meals Healthier

The following is a blog from NC State student Holly Starks. It is the 3rd in a series of 6 posts she will be writing chronicling her experience as a Nutrition Instructor for a OFL Class she is teaching. If you haven’t already, read the 1st Week and 2nd Week.  Holly is teaching OFL as part of a Service Learning Class that has teamed up North Carolina State Students with the Inter Faith Food Shuttle’s OFL/Nutrition Program. Through this partnership, the Food Shuttle and NC State hope to engage students in service learning and community nutrition while expanding the reach of its OFL program. Our second OFL Side by Side class met this past Tuesday for their third lesson, which focused on healthy eating choices while eating out and choosing snack options. The parents learned how to use the information on nutrition facts labels when buying food products while the kids were able to make their own healthy trail mix. As instructors, we emphasized the benefits of making their own healthy snacks at home such as the trail mix the kids made, but we also recognized that there will be times when their family decides to eat out. We provided several suggestions for making healthier choices such as choosing options that have more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, choosing grilled or baked options over fried, and choosing healthier drinks like water, milk, or juice instead of soda. We also pointed out that fast foods and restaurants tend to put high amounts of fat in their food, especially the types of fats that we consider “bad for you.” As a class we talked about the three different types of fats and encouraged the families to choose options that contain more unsaturated fats such as cooking with oils instead of butter and margarine, and incorporating fish, nuts, or seeds into their meals.

The cooking lesson also emphasized healthier cooking options and substitutions for when the families cook at home. For our recipes this week we made baked chicken fingers and sweet potato fries. Both of these recipes were a great way to show alternate cooking methods that can make a meal healthier. Instead of these recipes being fried, both were baked in the oven, which greatly reduced the amount of fat and calories. Using sweet potato fries was also a way to bring in more nutrients to the meal as opposed to using baked potatoes, which do not have as many vitamins.

Both the kids and parents enjoyed mixing the ingredients for the recipes as the parents helped mix the spices to flavor the fries and the kids helped mix the breading for the chicken fingers. After the fries and chicken fingers came out of the oven, everyone gathered around, anxious to try the new recipes. Both the parents and kids expressed that the recipes were delicious, as the kids especially liked the chicken fingers. Many of them expressed that they were surprised the recipes were so good because they were slightly hesitant about liking the substitutions. I think the recipes were a great way to also show the families that foods that they may typically like to eat out, can also be prepared at home in a healthier way. This recipe is also great for kids because chicken fingers tend to be at the top of their favorite foods. Join us next week to see what new recipes the families will make, and check out the recipe for the chicken fingers below. We encourage you to try them!

Baked Chicken Fingers

 serves 8                                        


  • 2 ½ pounds boneless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 ½ cups low-sodium tomato sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 400o F.
  2. Cut chicken breasts into 1” wide strips.
  3. *Measure and combine the yogurt, water, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add chicken strips to yogurt mixture and toss together until chicken is well-coated.
  5. *Measure and put grated Parmesan and bread crumbs into a large plastic bag.
  6. Lightly coat a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
  7. Add 3 to 4 chicken strips at a time to the plastic bag, seal bag, and have child shake the chicken inside the bag until it’s well coated. Be sure to keep the bag sealed so the ingredients don’t fall out when shaken.
  8. *Place the chicken strips on the baking sheet about ½ inch apart, in a single layer, making sure not to overcrowd.
  9. Spray chicken strips with cooking spray, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Repeat steps 8 and 9 if you don’t have enough room on the baking sheet to cook all the chicken strips at once.
  10. 10.  Warm tomato sauce in a small saucepan over low heat, place in a small serving bowl, and serve as a dipping sauce for the chicken fingers.

*Kids friendly steps*

-Also try adding ¼ teaspoon of the following seasonings to the yogurt mix: cayenne pepper, dried thyme, dried oregano, garlic powder, or paprika