Saturday, March 26, 2011

So Not My Original Idea...

...but, I thought I'd share anyway. 

As I've mentioned before, I'm over-the-top, crazy obsessed with my kids eating healthy food.  I've loosened up a little, as in I stopped bringing my own food for the kids to restaurants and hyperventilating if a non-organic morsel touches their lips.  Baby steps, okay.

I can't help it...I think about each and every meal and snack and how it will impact their little bodies.  You hear so much about food these eating certain greens can fight cancer cells or that the chemicals added to preserve food can do just the opposite.  For some reason, I can strike a more normal balance in my own life, understanding moderation and doing the best I can to make good choices...but with the kids, it's all consuming.  I know that giving my kids the best, healthy start in life is all on me.  They can't choose for themselves the food they eat, where it comes from and the quality...but I can.  I take that job very seriously.  In some ways, it's my quest to give them the tools they need to be healthy for life and in other ways, I'm just so scared of something bad happening to them.  With all the scary unknowns out there -- safety of vaccinations, pollution in the air, chemicals in water -- food is an area I know makes a difference in health and something I can control -- somewhat.

When the horrible, unthinkable crisis happened in Japan, aside from trying to wrap my mind around all the people whose lives were changed in an instant, I was also apprehensive about the radiation making its way across the globe.  I took to the Internet, in which I found a plethora of articles about how green and orange food can fight radiation in your body.  My poor kids were force fed sweet potato everyday for a week!

But, here's the problem.  Aside from a few things here and there, if it's green or slimy or too hard or too soft or offensive in any way -- my kids won't eat it.  And, my son will gladly give up dessert as long as he doesn't have to gag down a vegetable.  So, Jessica Seinfeld style...I've gone the deceptive route and have a handful of proven tricks up my sleeve to hide vegetables in their food.

I'm not perfect.  As a busy working Mom, I'm embarrassed to say how many times my kids eat pizza bites for lunch or "breakfast" for dinner.  I whip up instant oatmeal and jelly crackers at the last minute more often than I'd like to admit.  They eat enough Annie's cheddar bunnies that I should probably buy stock in the company and sometimes my son sits with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, otherwise known as breakfast.

This has been an ongoing struggle.  I talk about it a lot.  And, after sharing my woes with a co-worker and some of my little secrets for getting the wee ones to eat their veggies, she thought I should share.

Let me preface by saying, I'm not a nutritionist in any way.  I'm also not a chef.  And, some of these recipes are not even mine (but I do give credit where credit is due).  But, what I do know is that they work.   And, before you judge, I also know I'm probably not doing them any favors by hiding the vegetables in their food -- my mother of the year badge got rusty long ago.  But, I'm consciences of this and try and serve actual vegetables with meals and encourage them to try it.  Hey, and sometimes they do!

So, here are my go-to favorites:

Using MDB's chocolate almond milk and rice or coconut milk ice cream as a base, I add strawberries, raspberries (or really any fresh or frozen fruit that I have) and a banana to a blender.  Oh, and while the kids aren't looking -- fresh kale, a cube of store bought frozen wheat grass and some spinach.  Once you mix it up, the kids can't even tell there's "green stuff" in it.  Even my father-in-law fell for this one.  If your child is really picky -- I bet chocolate ice cream would hide the "green" even more.

Every week or so, I make a puree of raw spinach, blanched broccoli and garlic sauteed in some olive oil.  I freeze the mixture in the little mini Tupperware (which are BPA free now...go Glad!).  I defrost one about every three days and use the mixture to make scramble eggs, nearly every morning.  My kids love their "green eggs" and I couldn't hide my grin when my son wouldn't eat the strange looking yellow scramble eggs at a restaurant!  I started this one when my kids were infants and got the green light to eat, they didn't even know the difference and it stuck.

I got a bread maker for the holidays and I'm hooked.  My secret here is that all of the recipes call for water.  So, whenever I steam vegetables, like broccoli or carrots, I save the cooking water at the bottom and freeze it.  I defrost and use this water when I make my bread. 

I love these and low-and-behold so do all three two kids in my house (husband included).  I don't have an exact recipe for this one...I make it up as I go along and with whatever I have in the house at the time.  In a food processor, put half of a large onion or a shallot (whatever you have laying around), 1 - 2 garlic cloves, fresh parsley and basil (or any herbs you like), grated Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, an egg, a little olive oil and grind it up.  Add some raw spinach and kale and raw or lightly cooked broccoli and grind again.  Add this mixture to about 1 pound of ground beef (I like the grass-fed variety) and mix with your hands.  Add a splash of worchehire sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste and mix again.  Form the mixture into bite-sized, mini meatballs and place them on a sheet pan.  It should look like this:

(I promise...they don't look so green after they are slightly browned from the oven).  Bake the meatballs at about 375 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes or until almost done.  If you are going to serve them right away, finish cooking them in your favorite sauce.  Otherwise, let them cool, transfer them to a bag or container and freeze.  I always have a stash of these in the freezer and the kids gobble them up!  This one is husband and MDB's playdate approved as well!

This recipe is courtesy of Jessica Seinfeld's book, Deceptively Delicious.  It is one of my favorites -- and, when my husband tasted it before he knew veggies were hidden inside, he said it was my best batch of banana bread EVER!  MDB devours it too...and the best part, it's a pretty easy recipe so he always helps me in the kitchen with this one.  Full disclosure:  my Ellie won't touch this bread with a ten foot pole.  Dating back to the baby food days, bananas just ain't her thing!

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 large egg whites (I use the whole egg, mainly out of lazinesss)
11/2 cups banana puree
1/2 cup cauliflower puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9X5-inch loaf pan or 2 mini pans, with cooking spray.  (I'm not a big fan of cooking spray, so I coat my pan with butter).

2.  In a bowl, mix the flours with the baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.

3.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar and oil with a wooden spoon until well combined.  Mix in the eggs, banana and cauliflower purees and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and mix just until well combined.

4.  Pour the batter into the loaf pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes for the large loaf, 25 to 30 minutes for the mini loaves.  Let cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn the bread out of the pan to cool before serving.

I found this great mini loaf pan at Crate and Barrel, which I use to make the banana bread.  Aside from the fact that I can keep some in the fridge for the week and freeze the son thinks the little individual loaves are great!

I find the "dinosaur" kale works best, but all the varieties will do. After you wash your kale, pull the leaves off the stem in the middle. Break or chop the leaves into "chip" size pieces and toss them in a little olive oil. Spread them on a sheet pan and sprinkle with a touch of kosher salt. Bake on a high temperature (like 375 - 400 degrees) for about 5ish minutes, or until the pieces are crispy but not brown. The "chips" come out crunchy and delicious.  We can get Ellie to gulp these down by having her see how loud she can crunch! My son...well, he knows they are this one is hit or miss with him.

1.  Whenever I add chopped herbs to a meal, like over spaghetti or roasted chicken, I add chopped spinach too.  It looks the same, trust me. 
2.  My mom pureed steamed carrots into peanut butter once and MDB loved it.  I haven't tried it again in a while...but I should, since he consumes enough peanut butter alone as a family of four.  If you have a nut allergy in the family, this would also work with almond butter or sunflour seed butter.
3.  Whenever I make sweet potato mash for dinner, I save a little for pancake batter the next day.  Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup to whatever batter you use.
4.  If I "bread" something (like this great recipe for Pretzel Crusted Chicken), I chop a little spinach along with other fresh herbs into the mix.  If you use herb breadcrumbs, you can barely tell the fresh stuff is there!
5.  My son was recently introduced to french fries.  So, whenever I make them at home, I always use sweet potatoes sliced, brushed with olive oil and baked.  As long as they are doused with ketchup, he hasn't cared about the difference.

I'm not gonna lie -- sometimes when I share with others the time and energy I put into meal planning and healthy eating, I'm met with nothing but eye rolling.  So, if that's you...sorry!  But, if not, I hope you got some good ideas you can share with your family.

Bon Appetit!

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