Pssst! Can you keep a secret? If so, then you can get your kids to eat foods that are good for them without the mealtime fuss. The trick is to hide those healthy foods within the foods kids love to eat: Mash chickpeas into a burger; blend zucchini into tomato sauce. This smart strategy is the subject of a new cookbook, The Sneaky Chef, by Missy Chase Lapine. She invented dishes that her kids happily eat up — without suspecting a thing. We asked Lapine to tell us how she developed her idea and to share some "undercover" recipes with you. Here's what she said:
Missy Chase Lapine: The inspiration for The Sneaky Chef hit me one day when the oldest of my two daughters was sick. I was heading into the second hour of begging her to take a teaspoon of liquid penicillin for strep throat. Because I didn't have the heart — or the strength — to force her to take the medicine, I had to use my head. I slipped the foul-tasting pink liquid into some chocolate pudding and presto! down it went. That got me thinking, This method has worked for countless generations; why not take it further? Why couldn't I slip all kinds of healthy ingredients into foods my kids already love?
My creative juices started flowing, and I got to work. I created two lists: "Kid-Favorite Foods" and "Super Healthy Foods." Then I began to combine foods from each side of the lists. Which combinations passed the taste test? Sometimes, it was the unexpected: White beans pureed in macaroni and cheese, blueberries hidden in ground beef. Soon, I realized that as long as my kids couldn't see, smell, or taste the unfamiliar ingredients, they would eat whatever I gave them without resistance.
Voilà! Mealtimes began to pass without a single yuck! As a Sneaky Chef, I not only got peace at dinner, but I also got the peace of mind of knowing that my kids were enjoying the benefits of a healthy diet. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't continue to serve healthy foods and encourage your kids to try them. I'm saying that as a Sneaky Chef, the struggle to get your kids to eat those foods will become less urgent. With that in mind, why not start sneaking around your kitchen tonight?
How to Slip In the Nutrition
The top secret to being a high-level Sneaky Chef is to be super sneaky. Make sure the healthy foods that incite resistance from your kids can't be detected in their foods at all. You'd be surprised just how bland some healthy ingredients are (like cauliflower, zucchini, white beans, and even baby spinach), and how easily they slip into kids' favorite meals undetected.
Keep in mind these three basics for hiding foods:
- Similar colors and textures work well. Orange and white veggies hide in red sauce, but don't even try green puree in red sauce — it turns it a yucky brown.
- The healthy ingredient has to enhance the overall original taste or add no discernable taste of its own.
- You can't change the look or texture of the final product any more than the taste.
Everyone knows that carrots are good for your eyes, but these crunchy beauties also boost immunity, and they're full of fiber. Sweet potatoes are packed with antioxidant vitamins C and E, carotene, calcium, potassium and iron. Pureed, these two veggies add a subtle sweetness and quality boost to sneaky recipes. Makes about 2 cups.
What you need:
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and rough chopped
- 3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
- 2-3 tablespoons of water
What to do:
- In a medium pot, cover carrots and potatoes with cold water and boil for about 20 minutes until potatoes, and especially carrots, are very tender. If the carrots aren't thoroughly cooked, they'll leave telltale little nuggets of vegetables, which will reveal their presence (a gigantic no-no for the Sneaky Chef).
- Drain the potatoes and carrots and put them in the food processor with 2 tablespoons of water. Puree on high until smooth; no pieces of carrots or potatoes should remain. Stop occasionally to push the contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, use the third tablespoon of water to make a smooth puree, but the less water the better.
- Double the recipe if you want to make more to save for later use. Store in refrigerator up to three days, or freeze quarter-cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers.
Sneak your orange puree into the following family favorites:
- French toast
- mac 'n' cheese (recipe below)
- grilled cheese
- tomato sauce
- nacho cheese dip
- baked ziti
- cream of tomato soup
Masterful Mac ‘n' Cheese
This is a nutritionally enhanced version of my stepmother's recipe from Finland. Start at ¼ cup of the Orange Puree in this recipe and gradually increase to ½ cup over time. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
What you need:
- ½ pound macaroni (preferably whole wheat blend)
- 1½ cups milk
- ¼ to ½ cup Orange Puree
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups grated Colby or cheddar cheese
- Optional extra boost: 2 large eggs
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 375°. Butter a 9" square baking pan. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni, and cook according to the package directions, until firm and slightly undercooked. Drain and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the milk with the Orange Puree and salt. (If using eggs, whisk them in with the milk mixture.) Put half of the macaroni into the baking pan and top with half the cheddar (or Colby) cheese. Next, layer with the rest of the macaroni, and then pour the milk mixture over the top, finishing with the last of the cheese on top.
- Bake 30 to 35 minutes.