When it comes to kids, I know a thing or 2…or 5! As you probably know by now, David and I have 5 wonderful ones of our own: Rebecca, Corinda, Valerie, Natalia and Gabe, now ranging in age between 19 and 29. In all those years, I have worked full time as a neuroscientist, then part-time and eventually after Natalia was born, I became a full time stay-at-home mom; so I think it’s fair to say: “been there, done that!”
I’ve done the running around like a lunatic in the supermarket aisles with 2 toddlers and a newborn in tow. I’ve done the schlepping to and from school pick ups and drop offs and soccer games and basketball games and dance lessons and play rehearsals and recitals and conflicting parent-teacher meetings and doctors appointments. I’ve lived through the fragmented hours in a day to squeeze it all in. And yet, somehow, I’ve managed to raise my kids to be healthy happy eaters!
I think the reason it worked out so well, is not because I had any more resolve and devotion than anyone of these wonderful loving parents that I see all around me tirelessly and selflessly giving their kids so much of the same, and it’s certainly not because my kids were endowed with the “non-finicky” gene–believe me; but it’s simply because along the way, along with David, I figured out all the “tricks of the trade” and created the shortcuts for myself!
So for all of you moms and dads and caregivers out there who feel like tearing your hair out over trying to feed your kids healthy food or even just a variety of food, I am happy to share these tricks and shortcuts with you today.
But before I get to all the stealth ways in which I literally sneak all this nutritious food in their favorite meals, let me say this:
There is no point in forcing your kids to eat their veggies and fruit out right. Save yourself the aggravation of making an issue out of food with them. In unity, there is strength! Just make veggies part of YOUR daily dinner always and have fresh and dried fruit easily accessible in your household, and they’ll come around eventually.
Know how to trade up for better nutrition for every box, can, bottle or jar on the supermarket shelf. You can do this slowly and progressively, one box of cereal, crackers, chips or cookies at a time.
I promise I will revisit this at length. David and I have such a wealth of knowledge to share with you! He and I created the Nutrition Detectives program to teach and empower kids as young as 8 (and their parents) to read food labels and identify better-for-you-products in every aisle. In addition, David directed the team that created the Overall Nutritional Quality Index, probably the world’s most sophisticated and well validated nutrition guidance system. The system is in over 2000 supermarkets throughout the U.S. under the name NuVal. It scores overall nutritional quality on a scale from 1 to 100; the higher the number, the more nutritious the food. I find it incredibly helpful- but of course not everyone has access to such an at-a-glance system. My husband is doing his best to change that, but in the meantime, I will share all the other ways I know to get there from here…
Don’t make perfection the enemy of good and be patient with yourself (and your kid)!
For example, trying to trade up from a peanut butter that you thought was good for your kid (because after all, the ad told you that it would rank you as a “choosy mom”) to a peanut butter that is actually healthy, may take a little time for your kids’ and even your tastebuds to adjust. This is OK–look at all the added gook your tastebuds were used to in this photo of Jif Peanut butter ingredients. Adjust progressively without trying to do it all at once. Before you know it, your child may even prefer the more natural one (without all that extra gook!). My husband wrote a great story about that here–it’s true! Click Here to listen to a radio interview I did about some of my stealth mom tricks.
OK, NOW onto my stealth cooking!
Let’s be honest: Kids don’t like fancy-schmancy food (what I call “tra-la-la” in French!). They like what they know. They love what they are most familiar with: Cheese Pizza, Chicken nuggets, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, cookies, rice-crispie treats and so on. Eventually of course, when their taste adapts to a more wholesome diet, the options are limitless, but first, I recommend working with what we know they love now! Ultimately, there will be no need to be “deceptive” with the kids. My Corinda was reminding me how much fun it was to play the game “what’s the secret ingredient in this dish?” with all noisy 7 of us around the dinner table! Each of them, even my littlest ones, would inevitably shout out the usual “suspects” –flax seeds, lentils, beans, nuts…and sometimes, much to their disappointment, there were no secret ingredients, just because there was nothing to hide, and they just loved it, plain and simple! BUT, I have to say (ha-ha!) none of them EVER guessed the hidden cauliflower in their favorite macaroni and cheese nor the avocado in their absolute top hit cheese pizza (not even sophisticated Daddy!).
Allrighty, then! Presenting good ol’ favorites, Cuisinicity style, that your kids (and you) will LOVE! Even my kids’ friends who were not necessarily raised to like healthy food LOVE LOVE LOVE Mama Katz’s cooking! The secret is to do it without changing the appearance, the texture and really much of the taste for them. Make it appear just like what they know and love, and leave the rest to Mama Katz!
I won’t belabor here how I ameliorated and upgraded the nutrition of each and everyone of these dishes, because I do so in the actual recipe. Suffice it to say that the common theme throughout my stealthy ways is always to try to sneak in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts or legumes that kids would otherwise turn up their nose at. The net result is to increase fiber content, lower the sodium and sugar content, maximize vitamin, minerals & antioxidants, lower the saturated fat content or eliminate it all together and replace it with healthy fat….all while preserving deliciousness of course!
I think a top favorite is my Crispy Chicken Tenders — Perfectly crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. Kids devour these! Just don’t tell them they are eating their wholegrain cereal doing it. I use the same chicken cutlets in a simple store-bought marinara sauce (with no added sugar!) to make Chicken Parm.
Another top hit winner is my finger-licking delicious Honey Glazed Chicken — an absolute kid favorite- WOW so good!
Then there is the classic Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs kids always ask for! You would never know these wonderfully moist meatballs are not made with ground beef! That’s because of the puréed lentils that I sneak in there!
Now we come to good ol’ Cheese Pizza! I mean: look at the photo I took of it right out of the oven, and tell me you detect ANYthing different about it (Did you go check it out?). I mean REALLY, avocado, who knew?!
Another family favorite are my Turkey Burgers — No one will ever know these are so good for you! They hide puréed lentils and sautéed mushrooms which not only make them fabulously nutritious but also make them moist like a regular beef burger! They may also love my Mini BBQ Turkey Burgers, also filled with pureed lentils that you would never know are there. I have created a vegan version that they may well love too!
I mentioned the Sneaky Macaroni & Cheese earlier, so you know the punch line on that one–unbelievably fantastic! You got to admit–getting your little finicky one to devour cauliflower is a feat, right?!
Cocoa Oat Almond Shake (Vegan): If your child loves deep dark chocolate, he or she will absolutely love this shake! It goes down so smooth and it’s so good for them!! There is no added sugar–the sweetness comes from the ripe frozen banana and the medjool dates, but interestingly, you don’t really taste either. It just tastes decadently chocolaty rich and creamy! Of course, that richness has nothing to do with cream and has everything to do with the hidden black lentils and old fashioned rolled oats. The result is just power nutrition–protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that will fill their tummy –what better way to say I love you!
Power Chocolate Banana Milk Shake: This milk shake uses dairy so it is not vegan, and it, too, tastes like the real thing! it’s so chocolaty thick and creamy! The “secret” ingredients which you would never know are in there–you just don’t taste them–are canned black lentils and rolled oats! In one fell swoop, I have fruit, whole grains, legumes, dairy and nuts all in this one shake…Your kids will LOVE it and you can feel so good about it!
Whole White Wheat Pancakes are made with organic whole white wheat which has all the nutritional advantages of traditional whole wheat, but with a lighter color and a milder taste–just perfect for fluffy pancakes! Of course there is Simply Oatmeal or Simply Porridge, nothing hidden there, but they might just love it just the same. Now, of course, that’s what they expect for breakfast from Mom, but they will think you have gone absolutely nuts when you give them this Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Panini for breakfast–but watch out, it’s all in the wholesome ingredients you pick and I tell you all about that in the recipe!
Katz Flax Crisps: These no-bake cookies are the healthy and nutritious version of the conventional-empty-to-negative nutrition rice crispy so called “treats”. All 5 of my kids were “raised” on these and their cousins and all their friends and any kid (or adult for that matter!) who ever tried one just LOVES them! YUM!
My Chocolate Pudding and my Crème au Chocolat are outrageous! Kids absolutely love these. In fact, I actually created the pudding as a quick-no-cook-just mix-in-your-blender after-school power snack for the kids! They are both filled with fiber and protein and very low in added sugar.
My Dark Chocolate Cake is filled with grated zucchini but there is no evidence of it-I even amazed myself with how much zucchini I managed to sneak in that one!! I now have the vegan version-WOW-my Chocolate Zucchini Muffins, they are also perfect for birthday cupcakes!
Banana Date Bread (vegan): This is yummy banana bread that is so good for them, you can even give it to them as a snack–moist, delicious and NO added sugar!!
Chocolate Chip Cookies: This is the quintessential chocolate chip cookie. In this one, there is really no hidden ingredient outside of the soft wheat; it’s just that I lowered the sugar and replaced the saturated fat with healthy fat.
Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies: These are just so simple and easy to make that it will be a “savior” for those days when you completely forgot you needed to bring cookies to the school event and just need to whip a batch on your way out the door (almost!)–they are that easy and quick to make and they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious!
Almond Oat Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies just don’t hide the fact that they have a ripe banana in there, they just boast about it-YUMMY!
So, here you have it! This is a place to start, if you haven’t already started on your own. If you already have, good for you and please continue to be relentlessly creative! The outcome is a lifelong gift to your kids of good health, years added to life and life added to years! What more could a loving parent wish for!