Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Packed with Spinach Lasagna

Spinach is a beautiful vegetable. It is also chock full of vitamins and minerals. "But, my kids won't eat it, " goes the universal lament. Don't worry. If they eat lasagna they will eat this.
The key to this recipe is blending some of the spinach into the tomato sauce. That way the goodness gets into them without them even knowing it. And, there is a bonus. The red and green vegetable combination is a powerhouse.  The benefits of red vegetables supercharge those of the green vegetables and vice versa. Anytime you can put both color vegetables into a meal you are getting even more benefits than when you eat either one alone.
I sneak fresh spinach into every crook and crevice of this lasagna. I put in as much as I can get away with. You can adjust this recipe to adapt to what your kids will tolerate.
Here is what you will need:

I box of lasagna noodles.
1 bunch of spinach if your child has a green aversion. 2 if they will eat it.
1 8oz container of Ricotta cheese. I use Coach Farms goat ricotta because goat's milk is easier for your stomach to digest than cow's milk. Any ricotta will work.
1 quart or 1 jar of tomato sauce. I buy my sauce from a local Italian market. This way I know it is fresh.
1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

This recipe should take 1/2 and hour of prep time and 45 minutes of cooking time. It is possible to make in advance and heat up later. In fact, I think it is better the second day. You can also make a few at a time and freeze them for a healthy meal when you don't have time to cook.

Preheat your oven to 350.
Combine the mozzarella and parmesan with salt and pepper.
Cook the noodles per the box's instructions.
While the noodles are on the stove, wilt the spinach in a pan. The wilting process should only take about a minute.
Put your tomato sauce and 1 bunch of the wilted spinach in the blender and mix. Here you can add additional cooked vegetables to the sauce if you want to. Carrots, squash, brocolli and zucchini are all good choices. Tomato sauce is the perfect place to pack in the vegetables. You would be surprised what you can get away with.
If your kids have a green aversion then skip this next step. If they are cool with the green then go for it. Take the 2nd bunch of wilted spinach and chop it coarsely. Mix 1/3 of it into the ricotta cheese.  Mix some of the tomato sauce into the ricotta cheese as it makes it easier to spread.
Pour 1/5 of the sauce into a 10X7 oven safe pan. Add a layer of noodles. Then a layer of ricotta cheese, spinach (again, if you have a really "green" averse child you can skip this too), a sprinkle of the cheese mixture and then some sauce. Repeat this more 3 times. Make sure the top layer has sauce and a full layer of the cheese mixture.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.
Take out of the oven and let stand for 10 minutes to cool.

This makes a great next day lunch box item, too. Put the left-over lasagna in the oven or toaster oven for @20 mins to warm it up,  and pack in an insulated food container. Reuseit.com sells one by LunchBots.  I use these containers every day for my kid's lunches. Keeps food warm and safe from food contaminants.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Berry and Kale Smoothie

Kale? Seriously? Ewwwwww......

It's actually amazing. You can't taste the kale in the smoothie at all. I start by putting frozen organic fruit in the blender. Bananas, strawberries and blueberries or blackberries. You need a dark fruit in there unless you want to produce a green smoothie which I fear most kids would reject on color alone.

You will need:
4 strawberries
1/2 cup of blueberries and/or blackberries
1/2 banana
1 cup of chopped kale
1/2 cup of apple juice
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon full of calcium powder (optional)

Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth.

The leftover fruit I use is perfectly good but not very pretty. If your kids are anything like mine then one tiny little brown spot will kill the whole piece for them. Squishy blueberries and 1/2 eaten bananas that would otherwise go to waste go into the fruit bag I keep in the freezer. Fruit, especially organic fruit, is very expensive. You don't want to waste a single bite.
To supplement the fruit bag I use Cascadian farm organic frozen berries. Frozen organic fruits and vegetables are a very good choice. They are picked at their prime and frozen so they retain most of their nutrients. They are more widely available than fresh organic fruit and are less expensive.

I freeze the kale in large bunches. What I do is buy organic, curly kale in the summer and fall from a local organic farm so it will be top quality and fresh. Usually 10 1 gallon freezer bags will get us through the winter. Cut out the middle ribbing. Wash and chop the remaining green leaves. I grab a handful for each smoothie. 

I add a spoonful of calcium to my kid's smoothies. This addition is up for debate. My kids eat very few dairy products. They get most of their calcium from greens. It never seems like enough for growing bones. Calcium also supports muscle contraction and nerve conduction as well as providing additional immune support. As important as I feel calcium is, giving any child a supplement has to be a choice that a parent must make for themselves. Consult your pediatrician and consider the rest of your child's diet before adding any supplements. All of that being said the calcium supplement I use is from Standard Process. It is an excellent company and makes a pure product. 

For a liquid I use a fresh pressed organic apple juice and water. The liquid should come up to about 3/4 of the bulk of the fruit and kale in the smoothie. If you use too much liquid the smoothie gets diluted. Too little and and it's too thick. I err on the side of too little as you can always add a little more liquid as you are blending.
When the smoothie is done it should be a consistent texture and free of any chunks.
Pour it into your kid's favorite cups and you can give them a tasty breakfast or snack.

Seriously, any time your kids eat kale or anything close to that nutritious, you should do a victory dance. 
I know a recipe is a winner when Swiper the Fox (aka Sam, my youngest)) comes and steals it during the shoot. I had just set up my first shot when this happened...

Literally, stolen right out from underneath me.

"If you are what you eat then I am a Sau-ci Shrimp Cocktail"

“If you are what you eat  then I am a Sau-ci Shrimp Cocktail”

I grew up in the era of Hamburger Helper . Hungry Man Jack dinners were a treat my sister and I would have when my mother went out.  I remember the frozen dinners going into the oven looking like a science project and coming out bubbling and smelling delicious. My favorite part was the apple crumble that beckoned and encouraged you to finish the turkey with gravy so you could eat the sweet loveliness. Another big treat was the Sau-ci  Shrimp Cocktails, miniature shrimp in cocktail sauce that came in their own glass jars which my mother then used for juice glasses. She still has them. I shudder to think how many preservatives there were in those little glass jars.

My mother, who was not an enthusiastic cook, often made recipes from the “I Hate to Cook Book,” like Hama-Lima supper and  Stayabed stew. Nary a fresh vegetable in sight. The recipes always called for canned veggies.  My mother used to bake chicken a lot. I remember loving that. She baked it flooded in butter. The crunchy skin was always the best part.

         This was not the era of health food.
We have come a long way since then. We have learned how much impact our diets have on our health. Good quality fruits and vegetables are available all year round and yet we are still not making good food choices.
All my research shows how important food is and how it is inexorably connected to how our immune system functions. Most significantly how the first 8 years of a persons life can determine their health for the rest of their lives. The food a child eats is what gives their little bodies the tools that they need to build their immune system. If they are served American standard kid fare they are not getting that. It is very simple. Give a child real whole foods and their bodies can do what they are meant to do. Build an efficient immune system.
Great. Now that we have determined that the big question is HOW?????
My future blogs called Tapp's Tips will address just this question. I will show the foods that are doing us harm and why. I will give the good store brands that are committed to producing less processed more healthy foods as well as recipes that even the picky little ones will eat.
I hope you tune in.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Keep food fun

One of the keys to kids eating well is to keep it fun. You don't need to be an artist to make a simple face. Avocado eyebrows and hair. Organic strawberry eyes. A cornichon for a nose and an Applegate roasted turkey breast mouth.
I love the Applegate Organics lunch meats. If your kids are meat eaters it is a wonderful lunch choice. Their products have no added nitrates and are organic so they are good quality meat.

Dessert is a Vita Coco rocket shaped ice pop. It's just straight coconut water in a rocket shaped ice pop mold. He thinks he is getting a big treat. Meanwhile he is eating something that is actually good for him.

Children's food

I have always been interested in nutrition but I really didn't get totally involved in it until about 6 years ago. Kids nutrition in particular. It all happened when I had my first son. I looked at this perfect little being and I just didn't want to mess him up. When he was ready for solid foods I went to the grocery store to look at the baby food and was not happy with what I saw. I checked out the organics and wasn't too happy with those choices either. I bought a few and tried them but they tasted awful! I mean, why would you want to feed your little baby something that you wouldn't want to eat yourself? I started doing some research on kids nutritional needs and decided to make my own baby food.
From that point on I dove in deep. I looked up every food and found out what the nutritional value of that food was. I researched food combinations and found out which foods enhanced each other and which foods detracted from each other. I was a woman on a mission.
I looked at the standard children's menu and was deeply distressed with what I saw. How could we go out to eat when the only options on the kid's menu were completely void of any nutritional value? I realized at that point that we as a nation have a very big problem. The kid's menu is basically a road map of what to feed your kids. When you have a  young child you look to what is 'normal' and run with it. You go to the children's food aisle and buy what is there. You accept what you are being fed.
I remember listening to a commercial for a local restaurant. The song went like this "If your kid is like everyone else's and will eat nothing but chicken fingers and french fries then come to our place. We have the best ones in town."Did no one else see that this was a problem?
After I had my second son I became very sick with Lyme disease. Now I was in even deeper. I was feeding 2 children and now had the task of trying to get myself back to good health. For anyone who has had lyme disease you know that this is no small task.
Now my mission reached a fever pitch. The more I read about kids nutrition the more I saw the correlation between what kids eat and how that affects their future health. If I wanted my kids to have a strong immune system and have them be able to fight off the nasty bug that floored me, and whatever future bugs they might encounter, I knew that they had to have a strong immune system. That meant eating a good diet including lots of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, good whole grains and organic meats and not allowing the junk that is passing as kids food.
Now, nearly 3 years later, I am finally able to see what I hope is the end of my lyme tunnel. I have gone back to school for nutrition so I can cement my status as a healthy food advocate. I hope you will join me.