I have two sons, ages 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. Both of these boys were breastfed for an extended period of time, 14 months for my first son and 9 months for my second son. Once the boys were eating solid foods, I fed them fresh, organic, homemade baby food. I wanted to be sure they were getting the freshest foods and more than anything, I wanted to create the most healthy eating habits possible. It did not work. Neither of my boys choose healthy foods, ever. Both are very picky, have small appetites, and most nights, refuse to eat any dinner at all. My oldest asks for hot dogs and macaroni & cheese almost every night. My youngest would sustain himself solely on Ritz crackers if I let him.
I read through the chapters that precede the recipes with a pen and paper in hand. I found the chapter titled, The Program the most helpful. It provides ideas on the types of equipment and ingredients that are useful to have on-hand when getting ready to prepare the healthy recipes in this book as well as storage ideas for the purees used in most of the recipes. I already had experience in making purees from making my own baby food for my boys when they were little, so this part was easy. I had never thought to use these healthy blends in more grown-up recipes! Now that I'd read the chapters on nutrition, had my kitchen ready, and prepared several of the purees used as bases in many of the recipes, I was ready to cook!
The first recipe I tried, Peanut Butter and Banana Muffins (pg. 58), was from the breakfast section of the book. I chose this one because it sounded like it would have yummy flavors my boys would like, and I wanted to test the main premise of the book- the hiding of vegetables in foods you would not think they belonged in. The "secret ingredients" hidden in this recipe are, of course, banana puree, but also hidden are... carrot and cauliflower purees! As I steamed & pureed the cauliflower, I was very skeptical that the taste of this vegetable would be hidden in the peanut-buttery muffins. Other healthy ingredients in these muffins include whole wheat flour, egg-white, and I modified the recipe a bit by throwing in a handful of golden roasted flax seeds. Just before baking, the recipe suggests adding half the brown sugar to the batter at the very end, then just mixing lightly. This creates a yummy, crunchy texture on the top & outside edges of the muffins. After baking, we tried a muffin while they were still warm. Both of my sons gobbled theirs up! I was shocked to see them happily eating something so packed with vitamins and healthy ingredients! I really enjoyed the taste of these muffins and gave several of my adult friends tastes to see their reactions. We all agreed that you could not taste the cauliflower at all. My husband was not a big fan, however, because he doesn't like the taste to whole-wheat flour.
Along with the scrambled eggs, I decided to try another muffin recipe since the Peanut Butter Muffins had since been eaten all up. The Applesauce Muffins (pg. 50) sounded like a tasty recipe my kids would enjoy. This recipe calls for butternut squash or carrot puree as well as applesauce. I had leftover carrot puree from the other muffins, so I used that. Half way through making this recipe I realized that I did not have any applesauce on hand, so I just cut up a fresh apple, steamed it & pureed it instead, hoping things would turn out ok with this substitution. These muffins turned out to be even more popular than the first ones had been! My whole family loved the crunchy streusel topping and I really enjoyed how moist and cake-like the muffins were. These were a favorite I am sure we'll make again!
One recipe that had been featured on the Oprah show I'd seen were the Brownies (pg. 156)Jessica's husband, Jerry Seinfeld, had said he wanted as part of his last meal. Being a major chocolate fan myself, I had to try these! I was also intrigued to see how brownies with carrots and spinach would taste and if my kids would eat them. The recipe only makes a small batch (8 x 8-inch baking pan), so I decided to double it and take some to a friend's house where I was meeting a group for dinner that night. These brownies took some time to prepare. I hadn't made the purees ahead of time, so in addition to making the batter, I had to prepare the purees. The recipe includes unsweetened cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate, and only 1 cup of brown sugar. I was a little afraid they wouldn't be sweet enough, so I decided to modify the recipe a bit by throwing a bag of mini-chocolate chips into the batter. The blurb at the bottom of this recipe states that these brownies are only 133 calories per serving, have 3 grams of fiber each, and are packed with antioxidants from the spinach and carrots, unheard of for a brownie! Another important note in the recipe recommends that you do not eat the brownies until they have completely cooled because that is when the spinach flavor totally disappears. After cooling, I sliced the brownies and lightly dusted them with powdered sugar for a little added presentation. With a nervous grin on my face, I served a platter of these brownies to my friends and our kids. I was shocked when all of the kids gobbled their brownies up right away and were asking for more before the adults had a chance to finish theirs! I didn't tell the adults what the secret ingredients in these brownies were until after they'd had a few bites and they all about fell out of their chairs when I told them! These rich brownies do not have any spinach or carrot taste at all. The texture is not what you'd expect of a brownie, they are very moist and a little cake-like. All of the adults agreed the texture was a bit strange, but the taste was good and the kids loved them and had no clue they were eating spinach with every bite of chocolaty-brownie! So far, this has been my favorite recipe because I feel it is the healthiest version of an unhealthy treat I could imagine. My oldest son can not get enough of these. Like Jerry Seinfeld, he may request them as part of his last meal someday!
Tonight James asked for noodles for dinner, but I had no prepared sauce or ingredients for sauce from scratch. I remembered a recipe in Seinfeld's cookbook Buttered Noodles (pg. 108) that had seemed easy, so I thought it was worth a shot. This recipe was super easy. While the noodles were boiling, I threw the sauce together, which contained only 4 ingredients and most are common household ingredients. The hidden healthy punch in this recipe comes from the base for the sauce- yellow squash puree. Once all mixed together, this quick dinner looks a lot like plain buttered noodles, and when dusted with a little Parmesan cheese, is full of flavor my kids love! I even ate a bowl myself, and while this dish is a little too "kid-food" to serve as a dinner main-course, I did think it was pretty tasty. The squash give a rich flavor while not being too overwhelming. This is a recipe I will keep on hand for those nights I need to prepare something quick for the boys and don't have any ideas.
The prep time on these recipes is a bit more than normal recipes might be if you add in the time it takes to prepare the purees. I've found it is easiest and much faster if you prepare the purees ahead of time and store them in 1/4 cup servings in the freezer so they are ready to use. One thing Seinfeld stresses is that these recipes should not be used as a way to replace fresh vegetables as part of kids' dinners, but rather as a supplemental way to ensure kids are eating nutrient rich foods. Serving vegetables and fruits as snacks or side dishes is highly suggested as a way to create good habits for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Overall, I have really enjoyed using this recipe book. I have gotten a lot of satisfaction out of watching my kids enjoy foods that I know are packed with vitamins and nutrients. The fact that they have no idea what they are really consuming actually makes preparing and serving these recipes all that much more fun! I highly recommend this book for any parent who fears their kids aren't eating enough healthy foods or just wants some creative ideas on how to get a few more veggies into their kids' tummies. In the short time I've had this book, it has become the most used recipe book I own, and I'm sure I'll be pulling it off my shelf frequently for a long, long time.