By: Missy Chase Lapine
Sneaky Lunch Box Make-Over. As the author of The Sneaky Chef books, work and home time is all about cooking healthy meals for children, and yet preparing the lunch box is one of the most challenging things I do daily. We have all enjoyed the summer vacation, but as the next school year approaches, I’m armed and ready with simple and creative strategies to make sure my kids have their favorite foods invisibly fortified with my signature sneaky purees and other super food ingredients.
Below are two Quick Fixes for lunch box favorites: tuna fish sandwiches and thermos macaroni and cheese:
SNEAKY CHEF QUICK FIXES TO TUNA FISH SANDWICES:
Any or all of the ingredients listed below hide beautifully in a 6-ounce can of chunk light* or chunk white tuna, packed in water and drained. As with all Sneaky Chef recipes, you can gradually increase the amount of the nutritious sneaky ingredient over time. You can also combine any or all of the following Quick Fixes.
* Canned skinless and boneless sardines in water:
Sardines have almost no mercury and lots of IQ-boosting omega-3 oils. Mixing them in with the tuna fish your kids already love gives them an instant nutritional boost. Start by mixing in 2 ounces of sardines per 6 ounces of tuna, and over time, gradually increase the amount of sardines until there are equal parts sardines and tuna (or even more sardines, eventually — this is possible!). Continue to stir in mayonnaise or whatever you normally add to your child’s tuna fish.
* White Bean Puree (see Make-Ahead Recipe below):
Combine 1 to 2 tablespoons of White Bean Puree with every 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise for tuna salad.
* Wheat Germ:
Start by mixing in 1 tablespoon of wheat germ per 6-ounce can of tuna, along with mayonnaise (and White Bean Puree if desired), and, over time, gradually increase to 2 tablespoons of wheat germ.
QUICK FIXES FOR BOXED MAC ‘N CHEESE
There’s not a kids’ menu in the United States that doesn’t offer some variation of macaroni and cheese — the favorite — if not the most popular — of American comfort foods. The beauty, of even the packaged version is that its cheesy creaminess offers ample opportunity for sneaky chefs to slip in extra nutrition that even the toughest little critics won’t detect.
Each of the nutritional boosters listed here have been kid tested and have proven to be undetectable in taste, texture and color. Start by adding the least amount recommended of just one of the nutritional boosters listed below. Add a little more each time you serve this dish. You can also mix two or more of the boosters as long as the total is no more than about half cup total of puree per six ounce box of macaroni and cheese.
* 2 to 4 tablespoons White Bean Puree (See Make-Ahead Recipe below)
Prepare macaroni and cheese according to directions on package. Add pureed white beans into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended.
* 2 to 4 tablespoons Orange Puree (See Make-Ahead Recipe below)
Prepare macaroni and cheese according to directions on package. Add Orange Puree into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended. This one works best with an extra slice of American cheese or 1/4 cup of grated cheddar melted into the sauce to help mask the carrots, which have a bit more distinguishable taste, in the puree.
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup tofu
Prepare macaroni and cheese according to directions on package. Puree tofu in a food processor until smooth or mash it well with the back of a fork. Add pureed tofu into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended.
* 1 to 2 slices American cheese or ¼ cup grated cheddar cheese
Prepare macaroni and cheese according to directions on package. Add extra cheese to the packaged cheese sauce, mixing well until completely melted.
SNEAKY CHEF WHITE BEAN PUREE:
1 15-ounce can white beans (great northern, navy, butter or cannellini)
(If you are starting with dry beans, soak 1 cup for an hour, then cook according to instructions.)
1 to 2 tablespoons water
Rinse and drain the beans and put in the bowl of your food processor. Pulsing in on/off turns, puree the drained beans with just 1 tablespoon of water in processor until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. The goal is a smooth, but not wet, puree. (You are aiming for the consistency of peanut butter.) If necessary, thin with a little more water by one teaspoonful at a time until there are no flecks of whole beans visible.
Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days, or freeze 1/4 cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers. Makes about 1 cup of puree. Double this recipe if you want to store another cup of puree.
SNEAKY CHEF ORANGE PUREE:
1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and rough chopped
3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
2-3 tablespoons water
In a medium pot, cover carrots and potatoes with cold water and boil for about 20 minutes until yams, and especially carrots, are very tender. If the carrots aren’t thoroughly cooked, they’ll leave telltale little nuggets of vegetables, which will reveal their presence (a gigantic no-no for the sneaky chef).
Drain the potatoes and carrots and put them in the food processor with two tablespoons of water. Puree on high until smooth; no pieces of carrots or potatoes should remain. Stop occasionally to push the contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, use the third tablespoon of water to make a smooth puree, but the less water the better.
This makes about 2 cups of puree. Double the recipe if you want to store another 2 cups of puree. Store in refrigerator up to three days, or freeze 1/4 cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers.
Missy Chase Lapine
The Sneaky Chef is the brainchild of Missy Chase Lapine, whose New York Times bestseller, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals (Running Press, March 2007) inspired a whole new brand in the healthy eating/lifestyles category. Missy is the former publisher of Eating Well magazine and the founder of a natural baby product line Baby Spa®. She currently teaches at the Culinary Center of New York, has taught at the New School, and is also a collaborator with The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, helping schools serve healthier lunches. Missy serves on the Children’s Advisory Council of Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian where Sneaky Chef recipes are served to patients. Her highly-anticipated second book, The Sneaky Chef: How to Cheat on Your Man in the Kitchen, debuted in April, 2008.
Read more about Missy’s tips on mixing motherhood and nutrition