The Protein Sneak

by KristinMallon on April 2, 2013

Let’s face it. If left to their own devices, my kids would be carb addicts.  It’s not just the sweets (which they love), it’s the bread, waffles, crackers… even pasta. If my daughter were the self-reliant, storybook character Pipi Longstocking, she would eat a buttered French baguette for dinner every night. My son would, as he often does, fashion his grilled chicken into a spoon and eat only ketchup.

My kids, like many kids, are finicky. They are hardly amused when I present their well-balanced meals at dinnertime.  When they were younger, they used to be enthralled by the mystery of mommy’s food.  They were seemingly convinced that I was eating something as fascinating as strawberry ice cream for breakfast while they were eating oatmeal and were desperate to have some.

That trick worked for a while.  I would say, “You can’t have any of this egg white and turkey with avocado. It’s an exotic mommy food.” Which in turn, only made them want it even more. I would feign not wanting to give in.  They would squeal in delight for avocados and wheat grass.  Then they wised-up.  I’m proud of this intellectual growth, but I needed a new trick. 

The Protein Sneak.  I’ve found ways to sneak protein into the foods they eat.

I’m dating myself, but I was a child of the ’80s.  Neon, fanny packs, and chia pets… yeah, those ’80s.  In that time, the food fad was “fat free.”  Remember that? This fad gave birth to ideas such as, “Candy is good for you because it’s fat free.” This was before Atkins, the more sensible South Beach diets, and the subsequent low-carb revolution.  The health trends then continued with fat free, low carb, high protein and on and on.

Growing up with just my mother in the very health and image conscious Southern California, diet trends were, in fact (for better or worse?), a topic in our house. It was easy to kick the fat-free idea, once we lived with it for a while. But for some reason, the high-protein way of eating resonated with my mother; and I was on a protein overload through most of my teens. 

Maybe it made more sense???  Even now, I can hear my mother in my head saying:

“You feel tired? Did you eat enough protein this morning, honey.”

“You have a headache? I’ll make you some salmon with cottage cheese.”

In my mother’s mind, every ailment can be solved with a high-protein diet. While I don’t have quite my mother’s enthusiasm for protein, I do think it is a necessary component of a well balanced diet for my kids.

For protein, I use the big three: egg whites, plain Greek yogurt, and grains (quinoa, amaranth)/beans. I sneak these three into the foods that my kids love; and usually, get away with it.

Sneak #1: Egg Whites

Egg whites are great because I can use them in their liquid form, or in a solid, hard-boiled form. When in a liquid form, I add them into the ricotta in lasagna or add them to meatloaf or soups. The egg whites in the hard-boiled form or cooked form are even better. Hard-boiled egg whites can be cut into shapes or added to pastas and covered with sauce like pesto or cheese. My kids eat them as if they are part of the pasta.

Sneak #2: Plain Greek Yogurt 

I use plain to avoid extra sugars that can be found in vanilla or flavored types. Yogurt can be used in the same way that liquid egg whites are used. I also give it to my kids as yogurt instead of regular yogurt and add a bit of cinnamon or agave for flavor.   It can be used instead of milk for their cereal.  I will substitute Greek yogurt in lieu of adding butter and milk to macaroni and cheese. Or a real treat is: plain Greek yogurt blended with milk and frozen strawberries for a “summer smoothie.”

Sneak #3:  Grains & Beans

This one is a simple one. I substitute low protein grains like rice and pastas for higher protein grains like quinoa and amaranth. At first, I would hide these under sauce or mixed in with the familiar rice and pasta. Then over time, they were used to seeing these grains and now accept them more readily. Beans are great too because they can also be added to many dishes including, lasagna, pasta dishes, rice dishes, Mexican dishes, meatloaf, etc.  One of my favorite things to do with beans is to make paste, just by smashing them. I then put this paste as the bottom layer on a homemade pizza. Covered with tomato sauce and mozzarella, it makes the perfect protein sneak.

If you are kids are anything like mine, getting them to eat a balanced meal can be challenging. Hope you have fun with some of these sneaky ways to get protein into their diets. I’d love to hear about your results.

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