Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sneaky Chef to the rescue

We're still trying to rebound from the poor eating habits while at the hospital. Insisting on "real" food has been tough. The main reason is my concern for my son's health. Which in itself makes this weirder. Real food is best for his health but him continuing to eat is equally important. So if it's boxed mac and cheese for every meal with only a fresh strawberry and a cup of yogurt thrown in during the day, I'm just grateful he's eating.

In my core though, there is the need to make good food even out of a box of mac and cheese or a plain cheese pizza. Starting with the best of the processed choices is the first step. For instance, Trader Joe's makes a decent box of mac and cheese and so does Annie's. Next is making it with quality dairy. Then adding vegetables and/or protein. But if your child is anything like mine (the three year old anyway), adding veggies or protein he can see won't fly. And that's why I am thankful for the The Sneaky Chef.

I purchased the Sneaky Chef book a couple of years ago. I believe the purchase was made as a result of my first son's lack of desire for variety in his diet. As I was fretting a bit the other night about the abundance of mac and cheese my kid has been eating, I remembered the book. I quickly pulled it off the shelf and became reacquainted with it. The make-ahead puree recipes are genius. And they work. The orange puree is so subtle it goes undetected even in my son's beloved mac and cheese.

If you have trouble getting your kids to eat veggies or other nutritious items as is, I highly recommend giving the Sneaky Chef book a try. It has made it easier to deal with my son's current food rut and makes the food my toddler is eating even more nutritious. Can't go wrong with that! And in honor of the box and the Sneaky Chef, here is the Orange Puree recipe:

Orange Puree
1 medium sweet potato or yam, rough chopped
3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
3-4 tablespoons water

In a medium pot, cover carrots and sweet potatoes with cold water and boil for about 20 minutes until yams, and especially carrots are very tender. If the carrots aren't thoroughly cooked, they'll leave telltale little nuggets of vegetables, which will reveal their presence (a gigantic no-no for the sneaky chef).

Drain yams and carrots and put them in the food processor with two tablespoons of water. Puree on high until smooth; no chunks should remain. Stop occasionally to push the contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, add the rest of the water to make a smooth puree, but the less water the better.

This makes about two cups of puree. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze 1/4 cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers.

To add to boxed mac and cheese: Prepare according to directions on package. Add 2-4 tablespoons orange puree into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended. Note: Adding a 1/4 cup of grated cheese into the sauce will help mask the carrots a bit more if your little one detects them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hospital food

After 16 days, my son was released from the hospital. This journey started at the end of September, the 25th to be exact. And not too far into it did nutrition get pushed aside. Taking care of my son while he was battling a constant fever and taking care of his little brother at the same time did nothing for our meal planning. Not to mention my son that was sick refused to eat for seven days and that was before being admitted to the hospital (hence mama taking him to the ER).

Part of being in the hospital is ordering meals, usually a full day at a time. The pediatric ward of the first hospital we were at actually provided a menu/meal for both child and parent. At first, I thought I'd skip ordering for myself but on the advice of the nurses, I ordered. That turned out to be sound advice. It's not so easy to get out of the room much less get out of the building when your child is sick and confined to a hospital bed. Even when the opportunity arose such as when my husband came to visit or when my mom came to stay, I wouldn't always step out. I felt the need most of the time to stay with my boy. So having a tray delivered for both of us was the way to go.

At the second hospital, our area's Children's Hospital, things were different. A meal was only provided for the child. It was also different in other ways such as the bathroom inside the (shared) room was strictly for patient use and there was no water or coffee offered to the adults. If I had to use the restroom, even at 1:30 in the morning, I'd have to walk to the other side of the ward. And if I wanted (needed) coffee, it meant a trip to the cafeteria on floor 2. We were on floor 5. Luckily for me, my mom flew in just 3 days after my son was hospitalized so she would fetch us our coffee and food most days.

In regards to the menu, both hospitals had decent choices. I was pleasantly surprised to see words like "local" and "organic" on the menu at hospital one. Also, in the cafeteria there was an even a bigger array of healthy options such as gourmet sandwiches, many made with whole grains and lots of veggies, and a salad bar.  Of course, this is not to say there wasn't an abundance of not so healthy treats such as cookies, candy and pie. Hospital two also had lots of healthy options on the children's menu. And although there wasn't any organic or local options touted, each meal was delivered with a breakdown of nutritional information. The cafeteria at hospital number two served up a few healthy choices like a garden burger on whole wheat bun and made-to-order sandwiches as well as a salad bar (oddly located at the back of the cafeteria away from the rest of the food and the registers) but the most prominent offerings were prepackaged junk food, fried food and soda. Both children's menus also offered lots of not so healthy kid favorites like traditionally prepared chicken strips, french fries, mac & cheese, etc. But you know what? It makes sense. At one point I was so desperate to get my kid to eat, I bought some M&M's and set the package on the foot of the bed where he was sure to see it. He ignored it for an entire day. I couldn't believe it. Did the lack of candy in his everyday diet make it unappealing or was it the stubborn lack of appetite he'd been battling? I wanted to take the credit but it was the lack of appetite. The next morning, after being awake for only a few minutes, he asked for the candy. I was thrilled to hand it to him - for breakfast no less! He ate it and that was that.

From that point forward my son's appetite increased but seemingly only for more junk. Cookies were a big one. I also broke down (the same day I bought the candy) and purchased the pudding cups that don't require refrigeration... ugh! But seriously, it became a matter of survival in my mind. I even expressed my concern (guilt) with the doctors. They agreed I was doing the right thing. He needed to eat, period. As he started to feel better, he'd surely go back to his usual diet. And now being home for a five or so days, he has. Instead of a cookie, he eats a cheese stick. Instead of polyester pudding, he eats a yogurt. Our treats are getting back to occasional and more in line with my medium food mama philosophy.

My son's illness, the hospital stay and subsequent recovery has not only reminded me of how fragile life is but how appropriate the "everything in moderation" motto is. I do my best to reduce processed foods, make as much from scratch as I can and make educated choices upon buying our food but when you're in a position of little to no choice and/or desperate to get your baby to eat, you shouldn't fret. I continued to do my best but if it was cookies and chocolate milk he wanted, that's what he got. And, by extension, if it was cookies and coffee I wanted then that's what I had. Okay, not the same at all. I could have made better choices for myself but a few weeks of up and down eating for stressed out mom is forgivable right?

On a non-food related note for those interested, my son had severe pneumonia and an Empyema, a complication of pneumonia. Click here for a great explanation of Empyema. My son had the catheter procedure first and chest tube and video-assisted minimal access surgery second. Although, some consider Empyema rare, our Children's hospital sees 2 to 3 cases a month. It doesn't happen all the time (about 20%) but it's a reminder that a common cold or flu can lead to a much more serious situation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Please excuse my absence

I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know that I have not abandoned my blog but I am unable to contribute right now. Just over two weeks ago my son became ill and all my time and energy has been with him. We're still in the hospital and I don't know when we'll get to go home yet. My son has been through a lot the past two weeks and half of it has been spent in the hospital. He has had two surgeries and currently has a chest tube. With that said, he is on the mend, thankfully. Once we're home and things get settled, I'll be posting again. Thank you for understanding and I hope you'll keep visiting Medium Food Mama.