Cook Book Review: The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine
Hi, my name is Jessica. I teach 8th grade math, and I hate vegetables. This book was as much for my son as it was for me. My son, Declan, turns 2 years old soon and now denies any vegetable served in its original form at home. At daycare, they insist that he eats all the veggies they serve, but I have a hard time believing it. As for me, I have hated vegetable for a very long time. There is a handful that I will eat raw, but I cannot stand the consistency of most cooked vegetables, much to the horror of my grandmother. When I got pregnant, I started to choke down more simply because I knew my son growing inside of me needed them, and I was willing to sacrifice my taste buds for him. This continued while I was breastfeeding, but then I stopped eating them for quite a while.
I was very excited to receive The Sneaky Chef and have the chance to review it. Luckily, I got the book right before going on our road trip vacation, so I had plenty of time to read it. I sat in the car with my yellow highlighter, reading away and making notes in the book. Here are a few quotes from the book that I wanted to point out:
“Mealtime is a period that should be fun and should foster bonding among family members.” (p. 24) Studies show that mealtime is very important for bonding and actually will help children do better in school.
“New studies have even started to link mood and attention disorders with the lack of proper nutrition, contributing to the rise in ADHD, depression, and anxiety.” (p. 26) Being in education, this was an “ah-ha” moment for me. The majority of my students eat horribly at lunch and don’t have the best supervision at home (or someone making meals for them), and the majority of my students have been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.
“Children aren’t dogs; they aren’t bred to be obedient. And even before they can talk, they already have opinions.” (p. 36) I think most of us know how opinionated our children can be, no matter what their age!
The Sneaky Chef has a lot of great features and a lot of lists that are helpful to the beginning Sneaky Chef. It was some of these features that made me more determined to do better for my family in terms of meals and nutrition.
– 12 most important foods to buy organic (p. 56)
– 12 least contaminated foods (p. 56-57)
– kids’ “in” and “out” foods (p. 57)
– “staples to buy” (p. 58)
– foods that kids are likely to enjoy as they are (p. 76)
– “Make Ahead” substitute list (p. 123)
– breakdown of all the methods and the health benefits to each one (including icons you’ll see in each of the recipes)
– 13 “Make Ahead Recipes”
– ingredients and easy to follow directions
– the recipe each one is part of in the book
– the healthy benefits of the ingredients in each make ahead
– each recipe has an easy to use ingredients list that is easy to find, clear directions, tips, and ideas for use
– pictures for 15 of the recipes
There are some things you can do without on the “Staples” list, in my opinion, but it does list everything you need for ALL of the recipes in the book. My suggestion is that you go through the book and decide what recipes you want to try before running out and buying everything on the list. A couple of the lists gave me ideas of things to have my son try that he hasn’t tried before, such as artichokes. It hadn’t occurred to me that artichokes are something kids might like as they are. I particularly loved the nutritional information/health benefits behind each method as well as all the ingredients in each “Make Ahead.” There were a few “Make Ahead” recipes I thought about ignoring, but reading the health benefits behind the ingredients made me think twice.
I decided to try out the Orange Puree (Make Ahead Recipe #2) which involves sweet potatoes and carrots, both of which I happened to have. This puree is used in a lot of the recipes in the book, including two that are made in my house quite often: mac & cheese and quesadillas. The puree was very easy to make, freeze, and defrost for use. My sister happened to pick up her copy of the book a couple days before I received mine, so we discussed ways to make and store the purees. Here are our suggestions:
– allow the puree to cool before trying to measure and store
– freeze in ice cube trays
– store frozen cubes in labeled freezer bags.
I didn’t have any ice cube trays on hand when I did this, but we reasoned that one ice cube is approximately 1/8 of a cup which is an easy conversion to ¼ or ½ that most recipes call for when talking in terms of cups. Measuring out a tablespoon into the tray would also be easy and it would be easy to identify each cube in a mixture in the bag. I ended up using sandwich bags which seemed very wasteful to me but worked in a pinch.
– Masterful Mac & Cheese (p. 148-149)
o I used the Orange Puree instead of the White Puree
o We don’t use wheat pasta. We’ve tried it and just can’t get used to it. Barilla and Ronzoni both make a pasta that is higher in protein and cooks up really nicely, so I used that instead.
o I used less milk and did not use the salt. I avoid adding salt to recipes, especially when it is such a small amount.
o This recipe offers variations using eggs or creating a crunchy topping. I am not a fan of the crunchy topping on mac & cheese, so I ignored that, but my sister liked it on hers. Depending on how you want to use the leftovers, the eggs would make sense. It makes a denser mac & cheese. You could use the Better Breading (Make Ahead #13) and use leftovers to make fried mac & cheese bites the next day, if you use the eggs.
o This was incredibly tasty and much creamier than a normal mac & cheese. Declan ate a lot of it and my husband ate all the leftovers. One of the best things about this recipe was that the leftovers reheated better than regular mac & cheese. Leftovers were still nice and creamy.
– Covert Quesadillas (p. 174-175)
o I didn’t make the whole recipe, since it was just Declan and I, but this one is easy to adjust for the size of your family and their appetites.
o The Orange Puree was undetectable in the quesadilla and what you could see of the puree was easily passable as cheese. There was no taste or smell of the puree. I chose to use the chicken in our quesadillas.
o I also chose to use a tiny bit of butter in the pan instead of the oil.
o These quesadillas were a huge hit with both Declan and I (husband was at work). Declan normally does not each much of his quesadilla, but he ate almost a whole one. For his, I just used one tortilla and folded it in half.
Overall, I thought this book was awesome. I spoke with my mom about it, and she wishes it had been around when I was a child, because it was so hard to get me to eat vegetables. I look forward to trying more of the recipes, especially the baked goods. My husband is very supportive, but requests not to be told when I make something from the book so that he won’t prejudge it. Lapine also makes that suggestion in the book, and I feel fine about sneaking vegetables into everyone’s diet. My next recipe to try is the Magic Meatballs (p. 200-201), and adding Orange Puree to my father’s tomato sauce recipe at my son’s spaghetti dinner birthday party. Hopefully my father won’t kick me out of the family when he finds out!
Thanks Jessica for reviewing The Sneaky Chef Cookbook.