This month we feature a book that presents a raft of ideas for creating nutritious kid-friendly meals.
Better Than Peanut Butter & Jelly
By Marty Mattare & Wendy Muldawer
McBooks Press, 2006
While many families recognize the importance of teaching their children to eat those veggies, the concept seems lost on so many of today's far-too-busy parents. Marty and Wendy were inspired to create Better Than Peanut Butter & Jelly partly because their search to find nutritious ideas for packing their kids healthy veggie lunches turned up rather slim.
Getting Kids to Eat Well is an invaluable set of guidelines parents will want to keep handy to re-read for reassurance their children will thrive and develop healthy eating habits. Suggestions like not fixing something else when the child takes a dislike to what you've served or remembering that kids like to explore new foods with all their five senses are practices that reinforce positive eating attitudes.
Being able to create a variety of truly wholesome meals requires stocking the pantry and refrigerator with plenty of staples and fresh foods. Marty and Wendy have all the bases covered with their extensive lists. They've even shown how easy it is to convert vegetarian recipes to vegan fare and to substitute plant-based items for animal products.
Recognizing the importance of starting the kids' day with a nutritious breakfast, the author moms offer a backpack full of innovative morning meals that take no more than 10 minutes prep time as well as a few weekend delights that require a bit more fussing. Sit down with the kids, they say, and enjoy a delicious bowl of microwaved whole-wheat couscous with applesauce topped with banana slices. On another morning dish up some Berry Breakfast Parfait made with low fat yogurt laced with cinnamon, berries, and low-fat granola. And there's even a super-easy recipe for making your own nutritious granola.
"Soup makes everyone happy. Kids like soup because it's easy for them to eat. Parents like soup because it's easy to serve and a great way to 'sneak' vegetables into their children's diet," say Marty and Wendy. For one of their creative soups, the authors took all the ingredients in a typical taco, simmered them with tomato juice, and received raves when they served the kids Taco Soup. Other easy, hearty, and wholesome soups include Polka-Dot Pea Soup, Peanutty Soup, and Fava Bean Soup. Packed into a wide-mouth thermos, each of these homemade soups can be enjoyed as a school lunch.
While adults may enjoy salads with a grand array of fruits and veggies, kids prefer fewer items on their plates. Marty and Wendy suggest easy, quick fixes like leftover, cooked green beans and sliced mushrooms with an oil and vinegar dressing or a combination of leftover rice with chopped carrots, tomatoes, green onions, and soy mayo. The Tofruitti Salad, reminiscent of a Waldorf Salad, offers a bit more variety and introduces kids to the flavor of curry.
Kid-favorite side dishes focus on standards like Howlin' Hummus prepared with traditional wholesome ingredients, Firefighter French Fries (baked sweet-potato strips), and Crispy Snow Peas, a quick, 5-ingredient stir-fry.
One of the authors' suggestions is to have kids help prepare the meals so they are more inclined to eat those foods. Many of the sandwich ideas are kid-fixable. While several of the vegetarian sandwich recipes are vegetarian, they could easily be converted to vegan. Where's-the-Tuna Salad Sandwich is a seasoned-up can of chickpeas spiked with powdered kelp to create a tuna-like flavor.
Marty and Wendy suggest preparing some foods, such as casseroles, in larger quantities to create leftovers that can be frozen for those days when there's no time to cook. Preparing one-dish meals a day or two ahead also makes it possible to put dinner on the table in a snap.
The book is packed with easy meals and flavors combinations kids are crazy about. For example, the Pasta with Black Bean and Tomato Sauce is seasoned with cumin and chili powder and is given a nutrition boost with whole-wheat pasta. The Baked Vegetables with delicious roasting aromas from potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and bell peppers will bring kids to the table eager to dig in.
Since moms know growing children need to eat often, they can quell those appetites with great snacks like Apple Dips, Chewies for Charlie, or Fruit Refresher Shake, all made with fresh, unadulterated ingredients.
The authors take a comfortable, down-to-earth approach to desserts and feel that "As long as a child is eating a variety of healthy foods, we see no harm in serving the occasional dessert--but not as a reward or bribe for eating the main dish!" Instead of using refined sugar, they prefer to sweeten their treats with natural enhancers like molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices, applesauce, and unrefined sugars like turbinado. They also use honey, but vegans could readily substitute with maple syrup or agave nectar.
In place of traditional apple pie, kids could gobble up Apple Crumble made with oats, whole-wheat flour, apples and aromatic spices. And for the cookie monsters there are Pumpkin Cookies and Peanut Butter Cookies. Moms can always rely on good old-fashioned Baked Apples and Banana Bread to satisfy those little sweet cravings.
These author moms have even provided a section of toddler recipes and a host of suggestions like starting kids eating mashed foods from the family table while still in the high chair. Importance is placed on keeping refined sugar and salt out of the toddler diet, and feeding only natural foods. People need to recognize that toddlers eat tiny tidbits, and should avoid a battleground at the table when kids don't eat what you've chosen.
While there is no nutritional analysis for each recipe, readers can find nutritional charts that provide the calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrate values for a number of key ingredients. A resource section and an excellent index complete the book.
Better Than Peanut Butter & Jelly is not a gourmet cookbook designed to wow adults with sassy flavors and sophisticated nuance. Instead, it gears up the home chef as well as the kitchen pantry to deliver truly realistic recipes with wholesome ingredients to grow a good crop of healthy kids and their family members.
Reviewed December 2006