Have you ever heard about being a sneaky chef and hiding nutrition in your child’s food? The idea is to sneak some vegetables or other nutrition into what you are cooking where your family won’t see it, smell it, or taste it. It can be as simple as pureeing the veggies in a pasta sauce or adding some spinach to a smoothie.
When my kids were very small, I was a big believer. My kids were such picky eaters and it seemed the best way to make sure they were getting their food groups. Nutrition science has shown that adding even small amounts of extra nutrition to your child’s diet can add up over time. Really. Over the years, we learned that our kids have several food allergies. So making sure that they get the nutrition they need is even more challenging.
Some of the ideas I found were just plain weird. Pureed spinach in the brownies. Mixing carrot baby food in the pizza sauce. I’ve tried them all! Many of these additions were not hits, believe it or not.
I know. You are shocked my kids didn’t love every one of my mystery creations.
But it turns out that some of my sneaky ideas worked and stood the test of time. I’m going to share the sneaky additions that I liked so well, I am still doing them for my family.
Boosting Your Ground Beef
Mushrooms are full of antioxidants and B vitamins. They are a natural umami booster, helping bring out the beefy, savory flavor of beef. But most kids, and some adults I know, avoid them at all costs. So, I fight back by getting a bit sneaky.
Almost any recipe with ground beef gets a finely chopped onion, some garlic, and a finely diced mushroom or two added. When my kids were very small and very picky, these would all go through the food processor until they were a slushy blend of goodness. Nowadays, I just finely chop them. I sauté the onion, garlic, and mushroom mixture before adding the ground beef to the pan. Then I brown the meat and add whatever seasonings and other ingredients the recipe calls for.
Taco meat, chili, and spaghetti sauce all get this treatment. I found I could add mushrooms to meatloaf or meatballs, too. Many recipes called for the onions and garlic anyway, but I discovered years ago I could add some finely chopped mushrooms and no one could taste the difference. If you add a lot, it will eventually change the texture of your dish. So go slowly and add just a mushroom per pound of ground meat at first.
I also found that I could grind liver in my food processor and add a tablespoon of the ground liver to most ground beef dishes without being caught or changing the flavor. I could get liver very inexpensively from a local organic farm. Apparently, liver isn’t all that popular these days. However, it was very helpful with the anemia I was fighting at the time. Rich in iron, it is easier to digest than many iron supplements.
Molasses is another fun way to add nutrition and it gives your baked goods a warm, spicy flavor. A good source of manganese and magnesium, it is easy to add a tablespoon to oatmeal, spice cakes, or pancake batter. Ground flaxseed is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, and it is another easy addition to oatmeal and similar dishes.
My current favorite trick is to make baked oatmeal for breakfast and add some of both. I tell my teens and husband that I made a cake for breakfast and they all get a boost to their day. This baked oatmeal is sometimes called Amish Oatmeal. You can find tons of different recipes for it with a quick Google or Pinterest search.
Fresh herbs are just as nutritious as lettuce, if not more so. And, for some reason, my kids accept them far better. Adding herbs like thyme, basil, or oregano can give a tiny bit of vitamin K, and other micronutrients to your dinner. I like to keep fresh herbs on hand and add them as pizza toppings, in sauces and soups. Honestly, they can probably go on almost anything. I even like fresh basil instead of lettuce on my sandwiches.
A few years ago, I read study after study about how turmeric decreases inflammation and promotes healing. So, I bought a bottle of the bright yellow spice and started adding it to everything. A savory spice, it goes well in both beef and chicken dishes. However, my favorite place to add this spice is eggs. No, I’m not sure how much, I just add some.
I also add cinnamon to oatmeal and pancakes. Cinnamon is supposed to be good for helping control blood sugar, and since my own mood tanks when my blood sugar gets low, I figure it can’t hurt.
When my kids were tiny and picky, I worried a lot about them getting the nutrition they needed. Nowadays, I worry more about my own nutrition. It isn’t easy to keep everyone going and all of us eating healthy. So I am just as often mixing one of these little nutrition boosters into my own lunch as I am to add them to the family dinner. I hope some of these tricks work at your house. I know I sleep a bit better knowing that my family is eating well despite our many food allergies.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.