The superfood challenge: lessons learned

I wanted to share one last “lessons learned” posting now that the superfood challenge has been conquered. The experience certainly has made Wyatt a bit more adventurous and much more accepting of little green flecks in his food. Maya has realized that fruit is not the enemy. This does not imply that I have cured my children of all pickiness, but they are much more aware of what they are putting into their growing bodies. The superfood challenge has also taught me a lot about how to maximize the nutrients my children are getting every day. In brief, here are the tactics I’ve come to adopt.

  • Sneak it in – a little bit at a time. If I toss in a ½ cup of broccoli into pizza sauce, someone will notice. However, if I slowly add foods in increasingly small quantities to certain favorites over time, tastes start to adjust ever so slowly. I’ve done this with favorites such as rice dishes, pizza, chili and even banana bread!
  • Mix in more nuts. Nuts are packed with great nutrients and since there are so many ways to add them to dishes, I now keep a variety in the pantry. Pureed nuts or butters can be easily added to soups, smoothies and dips. Nuts are now a required topping if the kids are having ice cream.
  • Slip in more leafy greens. Whole Foods sells a frozen bag of organic mixed leafy greens that I use somewhat sparingly in dishes, but often. I need to puree the greens in the food processor to reduce their “flake size,” but once I have done so, I can add them to virtually any dish in good quantities without anyone noticing. In our house, we just call these green flakes “garnish,” and that seems to satisfy the curiosity of the littlest one.
  • Blend in more pureed vegetables. Mashed potatoes will never be the same again. I throw in cooked, pureed foods such as turnips or carrots or peas each and every time we serve the dish. Store-bought creamy soups (or macaroni and cheese) can easily accommodate pureed vegetables mixed with a touch of cream. Spaghetti sauce will never be served straight out of the jar.
  • Offer bread in moderation. Bread can be very filling, and having it with dinner often means the kids have no reason to eat or taste the other foods on the plate. Occasionally, I heat up whole wheat rolls (available in the freezer section), but only when I feel the whole wheat balances out the other foods in the meal well.
  • Commit to whole wheat pasta (and rice). We made the switch and stuck with it. Now the white stuff tastes chalky and dissatisfying.
  • Present healthy appetizers. In the past when hungry whiners were ready to eat before everyone else, I used to make them wait in agony. Patience is a virtue, after all. That often led to a grumpy kid who was no happier during dinner and sometimes irritable at bedtime. Now I try (if time permits) to put out healthy appetizers which typically consist of a nutrient-packed dip with carrot sticks and whole wheat crackers. This does mean that the kids will eat less at dinner, but they do end up with a good variety of healthy foods in their bellies by the end of the evening.
  • Create good marketing. Giving the dish a fun name may help entice at least a curious taste. While in the end, the picky eaters may not actually consume a full serving of, say, asparagus soup, they may at least venture to taste something called green alien goulash.
  • Put every meal item on the plate. No matter how much little noses might turn up at the horror, all foods go on all plates at mealtime (although not in the same portion sizes). When the family is enveloped in conversation at the table, those little hands sometimes reach down and inadvertently pick up a food they hadn’t planned on eating. Yes, you may waste a lot of food with this approach, but the success is worth it in the end.
  • Give small portions. Two florets of broccoli is a lot less intimidating than one-half cup. Tell your kids this is the compromise: mommy gets six pieces of broccoli on her plate, and you only have to have two. What a deal.
  • Obey the tasting rule. Our kids do not have to eat everything on their plates, but if they do not at least taste everything (microscopic sampling is allowed), then they cannot move on to the “next course.” While by this I typically mean “dessert,” I try not to actually use that word to somehow psychologically dissuade them from associating dessert with reward (I know, good luck with that one.) About 50% of the time while sitting at the table, they end up eating some portion of what is on their plate anyways.
  • Visit nice restaurants. The experience at high quality restaurants is distinctively unlike a visit to McDonalds (a dirty word in our household). The entire event should be framed as a special luxury, reserved only for people who are well-mannered and willing to eat foods unlike what they get at home. In fact, I have told the kids that these restaurants typically do not allow children, but that I have called ahead to explain that my children are very well-behaved and adventurous eaters, and therefore the restaurant is willing to make an exception. (One has to be willing to lie to one’s children for this to be effective.) Wide-eyed and a bit nervous, the kids typically accept the challenge gracefully. With Shirley Temples in hand and napkins in their laps, they try foods that accompany their meals that they certainly would not have eaten otherwise.
  • Don’t pester. Perfection is not the goal. I am certain that my kids do not get their “recommended daily allowance” often. The goal really is to find ways to enhance their consumption of nutrient-dense foods without too much pestering. Tears at the dinner table are certainly no way to encourage healthy eating!
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100 superfoods in 100 days!

We conquered the 100th remaining superfood together as a family: kohlrabi. This vegetable is sort of a cross between a turnip and cabbage, which certainly did not bode well for my pickiest eater. Nonetheless, I was determined to find a find a recipe that would not require too much coaxing or last minute alternative planning (i.e. the impromptu smoothie or dip). I have found that in addition to fixing a dish that tastes yummy, some marketing help goes a long way, and so this final superfood meal was going to have to entice the eaters prior to consumption. For a couple of days ahead of time, we talked about kohlrabi and how good it would taste when we got to eat it on our final challenge day. We spoke about it being an uncommon food, requiring me to go to an out-of-the-way market to find it, thereby emphasizing its specialness. We even related kohlrabi to those “rare” pokemon cards Maya talks about, emphasizing that things that are hard-to-find are often quite extraordinary. After much deliberation, I decided to make kohlrabi fritters (aka kohlrabi pancakes, an alternative to potato pancakes), partly because I knew the kids would be intrigued by the word “fritters” and partly because I was pretty certain Wyatt would eat them. In the end, they were simple to prepare, scrumptious by everyone’s account and led us to be proud of the culinary adventures we had had over the past 100 days.

Kohlrabi Fritters (serves 4)

  • 2 heads of kohlrabi
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup of breadcrumbs
  • Salt, to taste
  • Other seasoning (e.g. chopped dried or fresh herbs)
  • 4 tablespoons high heat oil such as grapeseed

Puree the kohlrabi in the food processor until small shreds form. Remove from the food processor and squeeze in a paper towel to remove excess water. Return the vegetable to the food processor with the eggs and puree about 1 more minute. Add the breadcrumbs and seasonings and pulse until combined. The batter should be thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as cookie dough. If too wet, add more breadcrumbs. Heat 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil in a pan over medium heat. Form mounds of the fritter dough about the size of golf balls, then toss from hand to hand to help remove some of the moisture. Drop into hot oil and fry about 3-4 minutes, turning as the fritters brown. Repeat for the second batch. Can be served with applesauce or sour cream.

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Nut loaf begets nut pate

A nut loaf is a nutrient-packed meal that resembles a meatloaf but is vegetarian. It’s also a great food in which to stash veggies, and with our never-ending quest to get Wyatt to eat cabbage (a “top 100 superfood for kids“), I was looking for the darkest hiding place I could find. A nut loaf is not a recipe that should be entered into lightly, however, as it does take some time to prepare and cook (about 75 minutes all together). But I was desperate! After all the prep work (dicing carrots, cabbage, mushrooms and nuts in the food processor and mixing with a variety of other ingredients to hold it all together) and waiting the 45 minutes for the loaf to come out of the oven, my kids were hungry. I cut each child a piece and informed them it was sort of like meatloaf, and then they promptly requested ketchup to go with it. I reluctantly obliged. Maya enjoyed it. Wyatt ate a few bites and declared it “too crunchy.” The fear of having to devise one more hidden cabbage recipe came over me, and I insisted he eat it anyway. He tried, but then the tears started flowing, and so I caved. I threw his portion into the food processor (which I had already cleaned!) along with some ketchup, gave it a whirl to chop up all those horrible chunks, and then I served it to him along with some crackers. That did the trick! And so nut loaf became nut pate, and cabbage was conquered.

(Apologies for the missing French accents here.)

Nut loaf (with cabbage and mushrooms) (serves 6)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup of fresh bread pieces, about 1/2 inch cubed (torn from a sandwich bread, for example)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups of mushrooms
  • 1/2 lb of cabbage (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot
  • Onion powder and garlic powder, to taste (or real onion and garlic, if tolerated)
  • 3 1/2 cups of nuts (preferably pecans and/or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (like panko or other canned variety)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon mustard (Dijon, preferably)
  • 3 teaspoons of mixed dried spices such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste

Combine eggs, milk and torn bread pieces in a large bowl and let soak. In a food processor fitted with a grater attachment, run the carrots, cabbage and mushrooms through, creating very small threads. Heat butter in a skillet and cook the vegetables for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Sprinkle with onion and garlic powders as well as salt, to taste. Using the blade attachment for the food processor, chop the nuts to desired fineness. Add the vegetables and nuts to the bowl along with the other remaining ingredients and mix well. Form into a greased loaf pan and cook in a 375F oven for 45 minutes.

Score: Chris – 95, Alexis – 91, Maya – 96, Wyatt – 96

Copyright 2011

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Scrambled scrambled eggs

We’re at day 90 or so in the superfood challenge, and the kids are right on track with both of their scores now at 94 (Chris and I have some catching up to do!).  Today, I worked with scrambled eggs – a very versatile, kid-friendly food that is eager to embrace the otherwise dismissed vegetable. Wyatt still needed to conquer brussels sprouts (he could not finish his serving of brussels sprouts bread pudding weeks ago), and after a spin through the food processor, they were a great addition to simple scrambled eggs. Maya needed both red peppers (she missed our dinner with red bread spread) and feta cheese off her list, both which were easily incorporated into the frying pan with the eggs. After today’s success, I will never make naked scrambled eggs again!

Scrambled scrambled eggs (serves 1)

  • 1 tablespoon butter (or less, if desired)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup of a vegetable such as brussels sprouts, red pepper, cabbage, bean sprouts, leafy greens (cooked, raw or frozen)
  • 2 oz. cheese (optional)
  • Salt, to taste

Add vegetable to the food processor and chop until very fine. Add to beaten eggs along with cheese. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add egg mixture and let set, then scramble. Heat until eggs are desired doneness. Salt, to taste.

Score: Chris -93, Alexis -86, Maya -94, Wyatt – 94

Copyright 2011

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Bean sprout victory!

Bean sprouts (a “top 100 superfood for kids“) are white, making them easy to hide in various foods. However, their pungent taste makes them difficult to mask. Therefore, I turned to lemons for help. Wyatt loves lemons, and I knew that if I could incorporate bean sprouts into a lemon-flavored dish, I might achieve success. Wyatt also loves fish, so why not a lemon butter sauce loaded with pureed bean sprouts served with his favorite fish? Bean sprout victory! The sauce is pretty versatile and could be served with vegetables or chicken.

Lemon butter (and bean sprouts) sauce

  • 1 1/3 cups of bean sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (the jarred variety should be okay)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Nuke the bean sprouts in the microwave for about 1 minute. Then, puree in a food processor 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides several times. Pour in the cream and continue to puree about 1 minute longer or until the bean sprouts are diced very small. On the stovetop, heat the lemon juice for about 5 minutes or until reduced by half. Add cream/bean sprout puree to the pot and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter pieces, one at a time, until melted. Serve warm.

Score: Chris – 88, Alexis – 86, Maya – 92, Wyatt – 92

Copyright 2011


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Mostly repeats

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, largely because we are nearing the finish line to the superfood challenge and we’ve been repeating recipes (with appropriate variations) to get those “top 100 superfoods” into all our bodies before March 15! I’ve also had many failures since the hardest foods are the last ones left on the list. My biggest challenge has been cabbage: I’ve made a cheesy, cabbage casserole, then tried a sweet cabbage stew with raisins, and as a last resort, I even tried throwing cabbage into a fruit smoothie (not recommended). Wyatt and Maya rejected all of these attempts (hence, no recipe postings), although Maya earned her cabbage check eating mu shu vegetables when we had Chinese take out. I have had more success with leafy greens, incorporating a puree of kale into biscuits (previous posting) or adding pureed broccoli rabe to tomato sauce (actually, I used vegetable juice instead since that is on the list) served with whole wheat spaghetti. We’ve also repeated the pesto recipe with different leafy green and nut variations, served with – sweet-potato gnocchi. I’ve made hummus using great northern white beans and sesame butter (both on the list). And the kids’ favorite, by far, has been “make your own chili night,” which is a take on “make your own burrito night,” but without the tortilla. The next two weeks will be challenging; cabbage and bean sprouts are my biggest enemies!

Score: Chris – 79, Alexis -78, Maya – 87; Wyatt – 85

Copyright 2011

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“Eat your spinach” chocolate chip cookies

Dessert is not an everyday occurrence in our house, but if the kids are going to indulge, I might as well make sure a superfood accompanies the sweet. Since we began the superfood challenge about 70 days ago, I’ve realized how easy it is to incorporate nuts into ice cream or fruit into pudding. Today I went the extra mile by attempting to add leafy greens (collard, to be precise) to chocolate chip cookies, and besides the greenish hue, the kids thought they were great. It takes about 3 cookies for a full serving of superfoods, which is too many for one sitting, but at least I know that the chocolate chip cookies they’re eating pack a punch of nutrients that they otherwise would not have gotten. Here’s the recipe I used, but you could just as easily try adding greens to your own favorite recipe.

“Eat your spinach” chocolate chip cookies (makes about 20 cookies)

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of sugar (I use turbinado – unprocessed cane sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups frozen leafy greens such as spinach, collards, kale, etc. (do not thaw)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt, then add to the mixer and mix until just combined. In a food processor, chop the frozen leafy greens until small flakes form. Add the cold leafy greens to the mixer along with the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed throughout the dough. The dough should now be cold, which helps keep the cookies from flattening out too much during baking. Line one or two cookie sheets with parchment (depending on the size of your oven), and form ping pong sized balls of dough by rolling in the palm of your hands. Space out evenly on the cookie sheet(s), leaving about two inches between balls. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Score: Chris – 73, Alexis – 69, Maya – 74, Wyatt – 70

Copyright 2011

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