I haven’t always been a proponent of the “Sneaky Chef” philosophy to get my kids to eat their vegetables. In much the same way as the voice heard by Kevin Costner in the film “Field of Dreams,” I listen to an internal voice whisper to me “If you serve it, they will eat.”
There will be a day (I hope!) when vegetables are no longer a controversial topic at our dinner table. In the meantime, I have found a couple of easy options which allow me to fulfill my role in raising healthy kids sans pleading or nagging.
My Berry Smoothie with Almond Milk has become a staple at breakfast time; it is filling, portable, and provides noticeable energy for a busy school morning.
Over the past year I’ve experimented with different fruits. With known excellent health benefits found in berries, I am pleased to find this flavor to be my children's favorite.
I've also experimented with health supplements such as flax seed and Trader Joe’s Very Green powder to determine how much to add without a discernible taste change.
The “Very Green” ingredient list includes spinach powder, broccoli power, alfalfa leaf extract, wheat grass juice powder, blue green algae, among other root and vegetable extracts. I worried that the taste and color would be noticeable in a smoothie, but it is fairly undetectable. If you would prefer to add an actual vegetable, rather than a powder, fresh or frozen spinach is an easy alternative.
For the flax seed, I use Trader Joe’s Roasted Flax Seed with Dried Blueberries. Flax seed is considered a health "wonder food" because of it's three components of fiber, antioxidant qualities and Omega-3 essential fatty acids.
TJ’s roasted flax seed has a noticeable nutty flavor that my kids balked at the first time. I cut back the second time, received good feedback, and have since been able to increase the amount slightly over time.
I love the taste of these smoothies with almond milk, but it can easily be substituted with coconut, soy or cow’s milk if there is a nut allergy.
Additionally, the smoothies are sugar-free, as they are made with Stevia and agave nectar for sweetness.
Berry Smoothies with Almond Milk
1 cup frozen berry mixture
1 cup almond milk*
¼ cup plain regular or Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s Flax Seed with Dried Blueberries
1 tablespoon Trader Joe’s Very Green Powder**
1 teaspoon agave nectar
½ packet Stevia sweetener
Place all the ingredients in a blender and mix on high until smooth.
* may be substituted with other milks such as soy, coconut or cow
** may be substituted with ¼ cup frozen spinach
PASTA WITH PUREED VEGETABLE SAUCE
Pasta and pizza sauces are very forgiving methods for incorporating vegetables. Often I find that texture is a big reason that my kids oppose certain vegetables, so blending them will remove that obstacle.
In my baked penne recipe, I’ve added spinach, carrots, onion and chick peas to the sauce. My inspiration was a Pugliese recipe for pasta with Italian sausage, chick peas and broccoli rabe.
My local market was out of broccoli rabe, so I reached for my trusty frozen spinach instead. Kale would work well here, too. Pureeing the chick peas gives the sauce a cream-like consistency.
Regular Italian sausage would make this dish even better, but the chicken version is still quite good and healthier.
Baked Penne with Chicken Italian Sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup frozen carrots
1 15 oz. can chick peas
2 35 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sour cream
4-5 links chicken sweet Italian sausage (or sweet and hot), sliced into ½ in. pieces
1 box whole wheat or multi-grain penne or rigatoni
3-3 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat a dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Add the diced onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the frozen vegetables and cook for 5 minutes more on medium. Add the tomatoes, chick peas, herbs, and vinegar. Cook for 10 minutes and then blend the mixture with an immersion blender. You can use a blender or Cuisinart if you don’t have an immersion blender, but I highly recommend purchasing this wonderful device.
Place the blended mixture back on the stove top and cook on low to medium-low for an additional 20 minutes. Add the salt one teaspoon at a time, stirring and tasting it after each addition to determine your desired amount.
During this time, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the penne or rigatoni to al dente, about 8-9 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to keep it al dente.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the pasta with ½ the sauce -save the additional sauce in the freezer for next week - the sour cream, and ¼ cup of the parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Place in a large baking dish (9 x 13”). Top with the mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup of the grated parmesan. Spray foil with cooking spray and place spray-side down on pasta, sealing the pan tightly. Bake for 35 minutes covered.
Turn the pan and remove the cover for the remaining 10 minutes. The pasta should be bubbling and beginning to lightly brown on top when finished.