Sneaky cooking

Fortify their fave recipes with a nutrient-dense puree

Mother of three Lisa Loeppky is pretty sneaky — at least when it comes to food. You never quite know what ingredient might be lurking in one of her ordinary-looking meals.

Take that serving of white rice, for example. “I purée cauliflower and add it to the rice at the end of the cooking time,” Loeppky says. “Then I season it with pepper, and nobody notices.”

Or maybe you’d like some spaghetti? “I take a jar of sauce and add puréed carrots, peppers and onions,” she says. And were you wondering why the spaghetti was being served by candlelight? Just another of Loeppky’s little tricks: “My kids are suspicious of anything that looks different,” she explains, “so if I’m serving whole wheat pasta, for example, we eat by candlelight and they don’t even notice.”

“Why be sneaky?” asks Missy Chase Lepine, author of The Sneaky Chef (you’ve probably heard of Jessica Seinfeld’s book based on the same idea). “The answer’s easy: It means healthier kids and peace at the table. You can have a harmonious family meal, without fighting and bribing kids to eat their vegetables, and feel relaxed because the pressure’s off — you know they’re getting the nutrition they need.” The basis of her book: 13 purées (most made with vegetables and fruits) that can be secretly added to recipes to boost nutrition without affecting taste or texture.

“Begin with a small amount and gradually add more as everyone gets used to it,” says Chase Lepine. “This is virtually foolproof because the purées actually make the sauce less acidic and easier to digest. And you can’t taste them at all!”

Chase Lepine adds: “If you don’t want to make your own purées, you can often just grab a jar of baby food to sneak into your foods.” Besides the main dish recipes, the book includes healthier treats — like Chase Lepine’s brownies made with three whole grains, puréed spinach and puréed blueberries.

Loeppky doesn’t stop at disguising her nutritious additions. She also likes to jazz up the presentation to entice her children to eat: “I make little meat people diving into the swimming pool — gravy in the mountain of mashed potatoes — to escape the giant broccoli people chasing them.” She’s even set up a chocolate fountain with a selection of fruit at dessert time, adding: “It’s amazing how much more likely they are to try a new fruit if they can coat it in chocolate.”

Other tips from sneaky cooks:

• Marilyn Coxe, a mother of three, saves the water from cooking vegetables and freezes it in ice cube trays to use for cooking rice, pasta, etc. — adding a little flavour as well as nutrients. She also purées vegetables and adds them to meat loaf.

• Coxe also says she sneaks lots of healthy ingredients into smoothies — frozen fruit and ground flaxseed, for example. Pancakes and muffins also get a boost from ground flaxseed and wheat germ.

• Pam MacKay likes ground flaxseed too and adds it to spaghetti sauce, porridge and pizza (underneath the sauce).

• Lisa Martin adds various kinds of fruits and vegetables to homemade muffins, where they are rarely noticed.

Chase Lepine points out that she doesn’t always hide her veggies — she thinks it’s important to serve some separately as well. But if your child ignores the green beans on her plate, you can relax knowing that you’ve sneakily blended spinach into the brownies you planned for dessert.

Try adding one of these purées — from Missy Chase Lepine’s The Sneaky Chef — to your child’s favourite sauce or casserole.

Orange Purée

1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and roughly chopped
3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks

In a medium pot, cover carrots and sweet potato with water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until very tender. Drain and put in a food processor with 2 tbsp (30 mL) water (could be reserved cooking water). Purée on high until smooth; no chunks should remain. Store in fridge up to 3 days or freeze in ¼ cup (50 mL) portions.

White Purée

2 cups (500 mL) cauliflower, cut into florets
2 small to medium zucchini, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) fresh lemon juice

Steam cauliflower in a vegetable steamer over 2 in (5 cm) of water in a tightly covered pot about 10 to 12 minutes or until very tender. Put the raw zucchini in a food processor, add lemon juice and pulse. Drain the cooked cauliflower and add it to the zucchini in the food processor, working in batches if necessary. Add 2 tbsp (30 mL) water and purée on high until smooth. Store in fridge up to 3 days or freeze in ¼ cup (50 mL) portions.

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