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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2011

Grilled cheese gets health-conscious makeover for kids


My kids notice when I cook the wrong brand of hot dog -- or the right brand of hot dog at the wrong temperature -- so sneaking spinach into their chocolate milkshakes or squash into their mac 'n' cheese has never really been an option.

Still, I had a breakthrough a couple of months ago when I made their grilled cheese with (gasp!) olive oil instead of butter. I held my breath. I sweated like a suspect under the hot lights and -- no reaction.

Maybe I should have quit while I was ahead, but I couldn't help wondering, could I go further with my grilled cheese makeover?

Realizing I needed professional help, I turned to Laura Werlin, author of Grilled Cheese, Please! for tips and advice.

Our starting point was my classic kids' grilled cheese, made with two slices of white bread, a slice of processed American cheese and a tablespoon of butter, for a total of 292 calories, 46 milligrams cholesterol, 582 milligrams sodium, 8 grams protein, and 1 gram fiber.

Ms. Werlin isn't a big fan of grilled cheese cooked in olive oil, but she said I could cut down on butter by melting it first and brushing it on the bread rather than melting the butter in the nonstick skillet.

She suggested an alternative to processed American cheese such as natural mild cheddar, which has fewer ingredients and less packaging, and she told me to grate the cheese before putting it on the bread. You use less, she said, and save on fat and calories.

She also suggested whole grain bread -- which my kids reject as a violation of their basic rights -- and add-ons such as spinach and thinly sliced broccoli or apples -- which my fussy eaters are more likely to eat on the side than in the sandwich.

I split the difference, leaving me with a smaller amount of real cheddar cheese (about 3/4 ounce) on part-whole grain honey oatmeal bread brushed in olive oil for a total of 293 calories, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 362 milligrams sodium, 11 grams protein, and 5 grams dietary fiber.

A definite improvement -- and my kids did actually eat it, although they complained bitterly about the bread.

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