One of my favorite things to do is to find healthy alternatives to fast food. After all, we love fast food not just because it's fast, but also because it tastes good. Personally, I could never give up fries, so they're my occasional indulgence.
Of course, another thing we like about fast food is that we don't have to cook it, but if you want your family to eat healthfully, you have to either cook or have a large-enough disposable income to be able to afford upscale fast food. And if you do, my kids would like you to adopt them.
I've written recently about healthful versions of and , and this week I'm turning my attention to Chinese food because it's my youngest son's favorite. Right now it's all about the youngest because it's high school musical season.
For the past few weeks our family has been inundated with all things musical, and the closer it gets to the opening of Pine-Richland High School’s s, “,” the crazier it gets.
This is the seventh year I’ve been a parent volunteer for the high school musical. My three kids have been involved in every aspect from crew to orchestra to lead and everything in between.
But it’s not just musical theater. Between the three of them, I’ve been a parent volunteer (and driver!) for Boy Scouts, swimming, dance, forensics, softball (lots of softball!), soccer, basketball, volleyball, chorus, band (lots of chorus and band!) and probably a few things I have mercifully forgotten.
I’m sure every parent out there has his or her own list, and I don't know any mom who is not just as busy or busier than I am.
Don't get me wrong, I love it, but I don’t love the havoc it can play with mealtime. It's easy to turn to the drive-through or just to pick up something at your favorite Chinese place.
The good news is that Chinese generally is a better choice than most fast foods, as many of the dishes feature vegetables and leaner meats such as chicken, seafood and pork. Chinese restaurants also fry in vegetable oil, so saturated fat levels are lower and trans fats non-existent.
The bad news is that Chinese meals do contain a lot of sodium, some as much as two days' worth. Also, one of the most popular dishes, General Tso's Chicken, is one of the unhealthiest. It is essentially fried chicken in a sweet sauce (I know it's supposedly spicy, but very few restaurants make it that way), so it's loaded with sodium, fat, sugar, calories and carbs. It has no vegetables either, so it doesn't even get that nutritional side effect.
Anyone who knows my son knows he loves his Chinese food, and when his schedule has him stressed out, that's what he craves. To balance his need for that comfort food with some good nutrition so his immune system isn't stressed, I've developed a system that, with just a little advance planning, gives you a base of leftovers that will leave you the ingredients to put together a lightning fast stir-fry. It can even be put in a bowl and eaten by a hungry actor in the passenger seat of the car while you drive him to the high school. Leave the bowl in the car and put it in to soak later. Messes can wait, mothering can't.
I've experimented with many teriyaki chicken recipes over the years, and finally found the ideal one on Allrecipes.com. It's just the perfect flavor, texture and mouth-feel to make it seem like you're eating General Tso's or some other professionally made Chinese chicken dish, except it's not fried and the sauce is much healthier. The sauce is nice and thick and sticks to the chicken. Make extra if you like lots of sauce to soak your rice. I make this as a meal, then use the leftovers for a quick stir-fry when my son either has just a few minutes in between school and rehearsal or comes home hungry and needs something fast. But my whole family loves it, and I often have it for a quick lunch as well.
Oven-Roasted Teriyaki Chicken
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- 1/2 cup SPLENDA
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Preheat oven to 425. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the cornstarch, cold water, SPLENDA, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger and ground black pepper. Let simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and bubbles.
Place chicken pieces in a 9x13 inch baking dish that has been covered with foil for easy cleanup. Brush chicken with the sauce. Turn pieces over and brush again.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Turn pieces over, and bake for another 20 minutes until no longer pink and juices run clear. Brush with sauce every 10 minutes during cooking. Cook about 10 minutes longer for bone-in thighs.
Make it a meal:
While the chicken cooks, make rice (we like brown made in the rice cooker) and any vegetable as a side dish, such as broccoli, corn, snow peas, red peppers, etc. Serve it as a traditional meal -- chicken, rice and vegetable -- and store leftovers in the fridge.
Make it a stir-fry:
Preparation: Chop up leftover chicken and vegetables and heat in microwave. If you like onion, cut some up of any kind for the stir-fry. Set all ingredients near stove with cold rice and a bottle of soy sauce.
Directions: Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a skillet. Toss in onion and stir-fry for a minute or two, add rice and stir-fry until hot. Sprinkle with soy sauce and stir-fry until it's a nice, light brown. Add vegetables. Now you can either add the chicken and mix it in, or plate the stir-fry and serve the chicken on top.