Our blogger today is Natalie Thomas, Queen of the Springbok Kitchen. She not only cooks good food for our children, she cooks sneaky food for them! She shares her talent for hiding foods kids think they don’t like in foods they know they do. As the old commercial said, “Try it, you’ll like it.” And remember, Moms—you don’t have to tell everything you know!
I love being a parent to my two sons, ages six and eight—it’s the most rewarding thing that I have ever done! But that does not mean that it has been without challenges. Differences of opinion over what to wear, what to watch, and, like many other families, we have had our share of battles at the dinner table.
“Bleh! Mom, I HATE green beans!”
“What are those little brown things in the rice?” (They were mushrooms.)
“I just want the meat… and the ketchup.”
Family mealtimes should be a relaxing part of the day, not tension-filled. No one wants to force their kids to eat foods they don’t like, but fruits and vegetables are part of a well-balanced diet. So what’s a parent to do?
One thing that has worked well for us at Springbok is disguising fruits and vegetables. Carrots in muffins? That’s right! Many kids will eat a number of fruits and veggies that they ordinarily wouldn’t touch if they cannot see them. Think your child won’t eat cauliflower? Guess again. They have! At Springbok, I hide pureed cauliflower in macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. What about spinach? “Green Monsters” are a great way to get your kids to eat spinach. They’re smoothies that include Greek yogurt, fruit, and spinach. Don’t worry--you can’t taste the spinach! I’ve also pureed it and snuck it into spaghetti sauce. The turkey wraps that appear on the menu also contain spinach.
How about broccoli? We frequently do broccoli rice casserole. The broccoli is pureed, and the kids think it’s just cheesy rice. Spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, and even muffin are great places to hide carrots. Serve sweet potatoes mashed or as fries with ketchup, or—puree them and add them to pancake batter and muffin mix!
Sneaky? Yes! But it gets the job done! Not only that, your child is getting accustomed to flavors he or she might not try otherwise. What about veggies as side dishes? While disguising veggies and fruit is a great practice, it’s also important to make sure that they make an appearance on the plate. At Springbok, we do both. We encourage the kids to at least try everything on their plate. It’s a good practice for home, and it diffuses a lot of arguments or stand-offs over finishing a serving of something. You won’t worry so much if your child doesn’t eat all his green beans if you know that he just had a serving of broccoli hidden in his rice. This will make for a less stressful time at the dinner table.
Another thing that might help reduce the dinner arguments: portion size. Many of us were raised with either the Clean Plate ethic or the “starving children in other countries” threat. Our parents wanted it all gone. This is reasonable only if portion sizes are also reasonable. A typical Kindergarten child doesn’t need a portion bigger than 1-2 ounces for most foods. Now some children will eat more, but that’s a good place to start to avoid a battle. When introducing a new food remember that smaller is better. You can always provide seconds.
Last, if disguising fruits and veggies is a concept that’s fairly new to you. Take the time to check out Mandy Chase Lapine’s Sneaky Chef and Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious. They have been great resources for me both at Springbok and at home.