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For many kids today, the four food groups are pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and mac 'n' cheese all washed down with sugary yogurt drinks and chocolate milk. For dessert, it's cookies, birthday cake, and candy. The more processed and less nutritious, the better. Forget vegetables and whole grains. They taste "yucky!" What's a well-meaning, but impatient mother to do? Try these five simple strategies for sneaking healthy ingredients into your child's favorite meals.Sneaking in Nutrition
Instead of trying to introduce a new healthy food to your child, hide nutrient-rich ingredients in familiar favorites. To avoid getting caught, select foods that only subtly alter the taste, color, or texture of the dish. Adding pureed carrots and cauliflower to macaroni and cheese, for example, gives the dish a slightly creamier texture, but their color is camouflaged by the cheese.The Old Way
Macaroni and cheese made with powder cheese and white flour pasta.The Sneaky Way
Cook whole-grain macaroni in vegetable broth instead of plain water. Drain the pasta reserving one cup of vegetable broth. Transfer pasta and put it back into the pot. Lightly cook baby carrots and cauliflower and puree in a blender. Puree cooked carrots and cauliflower in a blender. Stir in pureed vegetables, shredded organic cheddar cheese, half of the vegetable broth to the pasta. The vegetables will add a sweet flavor and their orange color will disguise them as part of the cheese sauce.
If your child likes peas, lightly cook them and sprinkle on top or arrange in a smiley face once the pasta has been served.The Old Way
Plain pizza bagel with tomato sauce and cheese.The Sneaky Way
Missy Chase Lapine, author of The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals, suggests adding white bean puree to the sauce to pump up the protein.
Perfect for breakfast or snack, this souped-up smoothie is packed with powerful antioxidants, potassium, and protein.Brainy Berry Smoothie
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup organic milk
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup avocado
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
Optional: 1 tsp. honey
Blend ingredients together adding water to thin the consistency.Power-Up Oatmeal
Fiber-rich oatmeal is a warm and wholesome way to start your child's morning. Most of the oatmeal that she is eating, however, is likely to be quick rolled oats which have a high glycemic index, causing the blood sugar to spike and crash. Steel-cut oats, by comparison, are healthier to eat because they burn slower in the body keeping the insulin level stable, but are time-consuming to prepare. If you want to stick with quick oats, add protein in the form of eggs to help maintain a balanced blood sugar level. Here's how to keep 'em incognito:
-Cook oatmeal according to the directions on the container.
-While the oats are cooking, break an egg (one egg for every serving) into a stainless steel bowl and beat lightly.
-Before the oats are finished cooking, transfer them to the stainless steel bowl while quickly incorporating the egg with a wooden spoon. This process, called tempering, will keep the egg from becoming scrambled.
-Pour the oatmeal mixture back into pot and continue cooking for another 4 minutes to ensure that the egg is thoroughly cooked.
-The egg in the oatmeal may alter the texture a bit by making it slightly creamier and make the oatmeal appear more yellow in tone. To distract your child from these differences, make a smiley face using dried cranberries or raisins on top of the oatmeal.
If it were up to kids, they would probably subsist solely on dessert. Since most will usually welcome the opportunity to eat something sweet, make it as nutritious as possible by adding healthy ingredients such as oat bran, yogurt, pureed fruits, dried fruits, and yes, even spinach! The chocolate in brownies, for example, will masquerade the flavor of antioxidant-rich pureed spinach. And your little one will never know that he's eating avocado when it's blended into chocolate pudding or a smoothie.
If you would like to introduce a new food without going undercover, you will have a greater chance of your child trying it if it's fun to eat. For many kids, this means finger food. Missy Chase Lapine suggests some of these healthy options: artichokes, edamame, berries, snap peas, pomegranates, and corn on the cob. Create a rainbow display of fruits and vegetables on a plate for your child to choose from.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, August 2007.