The Sneaky Chef

I had been hearing about The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine all over the parenting blogs and forums I visit for quite some time. I read the debates about the ethics of sneaking pureed vegetables into the favorite foods of unsuspecting children. Is it lying? Shouldn’t kids be encouraged to eat their vegetables without underhanded tricks? What about when the children grow up, move out, and their nutrition plummets because they didn’t know all about the secret ingredients?

I thought I’d check it all out for myself.  I must admit to being relieved when Mrs. Lapine quoted American Dietetics Association report that 50% of all kids ages 2 to 18 eat less than one serving of fruit per day (p.26). My kids usually eat at least one serving of fruit and one of vegetables every day (mostly carrots). I don’t think we are in as desperate need of sneakiness as some families. However, she kind of lost me when she talked about previously making two to three meals for dinner every night. That’s where I draw the line. The only exceptions I make are if a new recipe turns out horrible or if I decide to treat myself and DD#2 to a dish with tomato sauce, because my oldest won’t even be in the same room with tomato sauce (with the exception of on pizza). Otherwise, I try to make meals that everyone will eat or at least one item on the table that everyone will eat. And I make it clear that if someone refuses to eat a decent amount of dinner that they won’t get anything else for an hour or two.

I really decided to try out the book, though, because I thought that I could use a little extra nutrition snuck into my diet. The basic concept of the book is to make certain purees, syrups, and mixes using small amounts of really healthy ingredients and then use them in popular foods to give them a nutritional boost without effecting the taste. She recommends making the purees from scratch, but she said that you can also use jars of baby food in a pinch. The last half of the book is mainly recipes with extra nutritional tips.

So, last weekend at the store I bought a few jars of sweet potato and blueberry baby food. I didn’t feel like going through all the work of making purees until I decided it was worthwhile. I also figured that if it didn’t pan out I could save the jars for the baby to use up in a few months. So far I have only tried it with two recipes. I made up a batch of Cheesy Tomato Macaroni, a favorite for me and DD#2, and added two heaping tablespoons of sweet potato baby food. Mrs. Lapine recommends mixing sweet potato with tomato sauce because it barely changes the color of the sauce and the sweet potato makes the tomato sauce less acidic. DD#2 declared it to be just as delicious as ever. There were a few bites where I thought I detected a slight taste change, but it could have been because I was looking for it. I also put one heaping tablespoon of the sweet potato in our boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch. I couldn’t tell at all, and neither could the kids. Next time I might try adding two tablespoons.

As baking season approaches, I’m going to try mixing in a little wheat flour with my white flour, which I have done sometimes in the past. And I may start using a little more wheat germ again. I have a short list of recipes from the book I want to try out as well. The hardest part is going to be sneaking certain ingredients past my eagle-eyed oldest daughter; although sometimes the idea of something being super healthy actually makes her more willing to try something. I think one point in our favor is that most of the purees that would work in the recipes that we would eat are made of fruits and vegetables that the kids and I already like.  We’ll just have to get used to the idea of mixing sweet potatoes in with macaroni and cheese.

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4 Comments on “The Sneaky Chef”

  1. Laura Witten Says:

    I’ve heard about this trick – and if DS would eat anything I cooked I would try it. He’s put himself on a strict diet of chicken nuggets, yogurt, apples and Club crackers. Some french fries and a salad on occassion, and of course he loves bread, so grilled cheese is in the mix. Poptarts or pancakes for breakfast. Needs help, I know!

    As far as adding health to regular foods – I hear flax seed is wonderful to add to cereal, baked goods, and other things. Its got omega-3s and some other good stuff, and doesn’t taste much at all.

  2. Erin Says:

    I have Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. Same principle. DD loves Nutri-Grain bars (thanks DH!) and I don’t due to all the preservatives. So, I found a recipe in the book that makes fruit-oatmeal bars and adds spinach to the fruit. I was a little afraid when I saw trhe color of the fruit with the spinach, but baking it took out the green and took out the spinach flavor! Now I love “Nutri-Grain Bars” too! And, DD gets them everyday now!

  3. Kelly Says:

    I guess I wouldn’t think of it as trying to trick the children into eating more vegetables. I would just say I’m trying a new recipe, and we’ll see how we like it. I think dipping sauces area great idea, because most kids love to dip food in sauces. During summer veggie season, I will often put out a little plate with sliced vegetables and some ranch dressing while I’m making supper and the children usually eat it all.

    Laura, if you try out the flax seed, remember that we can’t digest while flax seeds, so they need to be ground. If you put ground flax seed in baked goods (which is great to do!), it will spoil a day or two sooner than if you leave it out. I like to stir in a little with oatmeal (instant is fine), because it just makes it taste a little bit chewier.

    Barbara, wheat germ is one of the things removed from whole wheat flour to make white flour, so if you’re already putting in wheat flour, you can skip the wheat germ. I’ve never used wheat germ, myself, so I’m not sure if you would normally put it in different things from whole wheat flour. One of my friends used to stir it in her children’s yogurt, but I was never brave enough!

  4. barboo77 Says:

    I may have to check out the the Jessica Seinfeld book. I had heard of that one as well, but it’s not quite as popular. Those fruit-oatmeal bars sound intriguing.

    As for the wheat germ, I’ve come across a few different books that recommend making a super-flour with a mix of white flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat germ. I think the wheat germ gives an extra boost, especially if you are using mostly white flour. I have put the sweet wheat germ in yogurt in the past, and oldest DD actually liked it ok. The book also recommends using wheat germ whenever you cook something that requires bread crumbs or breading around it, like meatloaf or chicken nuggets.

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