04 November 2007

(Not so) hidden treasures

Last week I read a newspaper story about the mommy cookbook rage of recipes that disguise healthy ingredients so the kiddos are none the wiser. The story explored the possibility that hiding foods could create lifelong bad habits instead of short-term dislikes.

I don't have kids, so my thoughts are merely that -- thoughts -- not tried and true kitchen practices.

Over a glass of wine last night several of my mom friends were discussing Jessica Seinfeld's recently released "Deceptively Delicious." Much to the other moms' surprise, Dina pulled out baggies of frozen pureed cauliflower, sweet potato and spinach ready to be slipped in her boys' food. The reaction was at first amazement and then a sigh, as we remembered Dina's attention to all things domestic. She has patience, creativity and dedication most of us will always envy when it comes to running a household.

She warmed up a leftover sweet potato pancake she'd made earlier in the day. The recipe was one of Seinfeld's. Luke, she says, rejected it. We, however, gobbled it up.

That recipe was fabulous and one worth repeating, not so much as a deceptive dish but instead as a delicious one. Other recipes from the book, however, are hard to swallow.

Although I can't help but balk at the idea of spinach in brownies or avocado in chocolate pudding, I, too, have gone down this path. As evidenced by an earlier post, I have used squash in mac and cheese, a dish I named Faux Cheese. I also shared a recipe for an avocado smoothie, which could likely land in a "Deceptive" book in this country but is a heavenly treat in other cultures.

I get it that as kids we have a variety of reasons to like and dislike certain foods. When I was little, I hated peas. I wasn't repulsed by all things green as Seth says he was; it was a texture thing for me. I hated the way peas popped in your mouth. Fortunately, though, I did not become a life-long pea-hater.

Sometimes adults are picky, too. The main customer in my kitchen -- Seth -- has his moments. But, in time, I've expanded both of our veggie-loving horizons. I respect the fact that he hates Brussels sprouts, and even though I love the taste of fresh Brussels sprouts quartered and sauted in olive oil and sea salt, I will not force him to eat them. Nor will I puree them and slip them into his dessert.

What I will do is look for vegetables he does like and find ways to prepare them that turn a ho-hum product into a tasty tidbit. Carrots are peeled, quartered, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled. Peas, fresh mint and parm are tossed with pasta and olive oil for a great salad. Spinach or arugula take the place of less-nutritious iceberg lettuce on sandwiches.

I am a big believer in fresh, healthy ingredients making it to the dinner table. Food should taste good and be good for you. That is, after all, how nature intended it. Over time, though, our tastes buds have become confused. We've come to crave unhealthy foods, giving rise to the success of fast-food giants. We're no longer hard-wired to accept healthy foods easily. The solution is too complex for merely one cookbook to solve.

Just as natural is the desire for parents to provide good, healthy food for their children and families. By all means, make food healthy however your family will eat it. However, don't believe that all of the good tips are found in books.

Use your imagination, involve the kids when they're old enough and lead by example. Get creative and come up with dishes personalized to your family. There's no right or wrong. Cooking good foods doesn't have to be complicated, nor should it feel forced. And remember, just like any other cultural characteristic such as language, mannerisms or family dynamics, food tastes are learned through everyday experiences.

Banana Walnut Pancakes

These 'cakes get an extra nutritional boost with whole wheat flour, fruit and protein in the form of walnuts. To keep them super healthy, skip the butter and syrup and eat them sans utensils!

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 over-ripe banana, mashed *
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.

In another bowl combine beaten egg, milk, oil and mashed banana. Combine the dry and wet ingredients and stir just until combined. The batter will be lumpy.

Spoon batter onto a medium-hot griddle. Once several bubbles form, about two minutes, flip to finish cooking.

* See previous post for tips on ripened bananas.

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