Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Vegetable Dance: Trying to be a Sneaky Chef

One of the more challenging aspects of having three toddlers is trying to find meals that will make ALL three toddlers happy. As a parent, I want to give my sons something healthy and nutritious, however, I have been very frustrated lately. I have one son who will try anything but if he doesn't like it he is "all done"; one son who refuses to eat meat and will often just eat ketchup off the plate (although I am happy he is using his fork or spoon to do so); and one son who will not try anything fruit or vegetable related and simply eats the meat. I guess on the bright side they would eat one good, nutritious meal between the three of them, if only it would work that way!

In an effort to stop making dinner and having no one eat it but the dog I often found myself giving in and feeding my kids what they asked for, namely snakcs, rather than full meals.. I was beginning to fear that my boys would never eat anything green in their lives.

One night I made  macaroni and cheese one night and mixed the vegetables into the pasta  thinking at least one out of the three would accidentally munch on a carrot or green bean. It turned into a big failure. Liam picked out each individual vegetable and threw them on the floor and Jake and Caleb refused to eat any of it and simply asked for more pasta.  Obviously I completely underestimated the intelligence of my children. Clearly I was going to have to be more underhanded.

I googled the sneaky chef and found her website interesting. I have never read her cookbooks and was certainly not looking to make my life more complicated by making gourmet recipes my kids were not going to eat. I also was not looking to drop money on cookbooks for recipes that may or may not work. What I liked was that there was a section of free recipes which I naturally gravitated towards. ( ). 

I saw she had Mac and cheese listed. I clicked on the link and saw that one of her secrects is to include a vegetable puree in the standard box of macaroni and cheese. LOVED the idea that I did not have to make my own specialty Mac and cheese from scratch. My boys like Annie's Organic mac and cheese and I am okay with that.   However, I was afraid to see how complicated the puree was to make. I was greatly relieved to see (on paper) that it looked manageable.

Take two to three carrots and one sweet potato and peel them, chop them and boil them for twenty minutes. No problem. Drain the water and put everything into the food processor with a bit of water and you will have a puree. Sounds easy enough, but for me it entails digging out my food processor ( I had registered and receieved it when we got married 7 years ago but don't use it often) . I found the dusty shelf it was on and proceeded to put my boiled vegetables in.  It was actually pretty easy but I found I really do not have a big enough food processor for this sort of thing and, as a result, some of the carrots did not turn into mush enough and I had to pick out those pieces.

It was time for the final step. I put about 3-4 tablespoons of the puree into the Mac and cheese as I mixed in the powdered cheese and you really could not tell that anything additional was in there. The boys were excited to have Mac and cheese for dinner so now it was time for the taste test. THEY LOVED IT!! They had no idea that they were really having carrot, sweet potato Mac and cheese. I found the biggest drawback to this whole process was now I had to clean the food processor. (I will admit that it sat in my sink for about a week-dishes are not my thing).

The sneaky chef breaks down the purees by color.  I really liked the idea of having different colored purees to disguise in different foods. I got ambitious at the grocery store last week and got cauliflower to add to my puree of carrots and sweet potatoes. I also wised up and used my larger and more powerful blender. The consistency was much better and it was much faster. The cauliflower did not change the color of the puree and I mixed it into the Mac and cheese no problem. The boys scrafed it down again and they had no idea that on top of the pasta they were eating carrots sweet potatoes and cauliflower.
I want the boys to like vegetables for what they are but for now I like that they are getting the nutritional benefit without the argument and I am not just giving them Mac and cheese and cooking vegetables that never get eaten. As much as it takes a little more effort to make the puree, it was a lot less effort than I was anticipating and it makes a fair amount you can keep in the fridge for about two weeks.