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Super sneaky veggie mac & cheese

June 12, 2012
By Wendy Monro , The Journal

My son, Jack, has a serious problem. He refuses to eat anything healthy. By the way, he's a vegetarian. There should be a different name for vegetarians who don't actually eat any vegetables. His diet consists of cheese pizza, animal fries, macaroni and cheese casserole, crepes with Nutella, frozen waffles, some sushi, and ice cream. Animal fries are served at In N Out Burger. They are French fries, covered in cheese, smothered in Thousand Island dressing, mixed with some grilled onions. I have to admit, these are the most delicious fries on the planet. They may be the tastiest snack ever created. I can't stand it when he eats them in front of me.

I spend an exorbitant amount of time researching foods, their health benefits, the risk factors, etc So, when I see my son eat these things, I really worry. I know he needs vitamins, minerals, and protein to grow properly and to stay healthy. Sure, I could be one of those moms who force him to eat vegetables. I am not that kind of mom. I'm weak and always try to please. Instead, I load him up with vitamin supplements every morning. Thank goodness, he doesn't mind taking these. Also, I experiment with different types of smoothies to see if there is one I can create which he will enjoy. So far, no such luck. He just doesn't like fruit. In fact, the list of what Jack doesn't like is extensive: all meat (obviously), eggs, rice, potatoes, pasta (except for macaroni), any vegetable, or any fruit. Seriously? How am I to work with this?

Sometimes I feel sorry for him because I make a big beautiful nutritious dinner for the family and he goes and throws a frozen pizza into the oven instead. It makes me sad when he eats junk. So, the other day, just before I went to the grocery store, I asked him, "If I could make you anything tonight for dinner, what would it be?" To which he replied, "Mac and cheese casserole." I decided I would make this for him. Usually, I make my macaroni and cheese casserole with sauted vegetables. Jack always picks each vegetable bite out of it. Not a single vegetable makes it into his mouth.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Serve this tasty mac and cheese casserole, and your picky eater will never know he’s eating vegetables.

As I walked through the store, I started thinking of ways I could make this casserole healthier while keeping Jack happy. First, I thought of the cheese sauce. I could substitute almond milk for the regular milk I usually use. Almond milk does not have any saturated fat or cholesterol. I also thought of using Nature's Balance spread instead of butter. This is all very similar to the substitutions I made with my lighter scalloped potatoes a couple of weeks ago. I knew this worked well then and would still be good and creamy with this dish.

Still, Jack wouldn't be getting any of the vegetables I really wanted to try to introduce to his diet. Then, I remembered this vegetarian lasagna my mom made for my daughter Ella one summer. She had me cut up tons of vegetables: leeks, mushrooms, squash, onions, celery, and carrots. Then, we pured them and added this mixture to the tomato sauce. Ella and Jack ate the lasagna and loved it. Neither Jack nor Ella complained about any vegetables in the dish. Well, I thought, it may be trickier with macaroni and cheese casserole because the color is so bland, but I could give it a shot. What did I have to lose? If it worked, I had much to gain. Jack would finally have a dish he likes which is filled with vegetables.

Sure, this recipe is still a bit fattening, but I was already planning on using almond milk and a butter substitute. I would further cut down on the fat by using low fat cheese. Luckily, Jack was at hockey while I prepared dinner. He would not have liked seeing any of this. What he doesn't know can't hurt him. I chose yellow squash and mushrooms as my super sneaky vegetables to use because their colors would blend in well. I prepared the cheese sauce and slowly mixed in the vegetables. I took a taste. It tasted like regular cheese sauce. I couldn't even notice a change in the flavor. I thought this just might work. Soon, the casserole was in the oven and I was off to pick Jack up from hockey.

Fact Box

Super Sneaky Macaroni &

Cheese Casserole

Serves: 10

Time: 1 hour

1 lb. package of macaroni noodles

(can use whole wheat)

1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

3 yellow squash

1 cup sliced button mushrooms

1/2 cup Nature's Balance Spread

(or butter substitute of your choice)

1/2 cup flour (can use whole wheat)

2 cups almond milk

4 cups shredded low fat cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and pour into a casserole dish. In a pan, melt the buttery spread. Add flour and mix to form a paste. Slowly add milk until it thickens. Add the cheese. In a saut pan, heat the oil. Saut the mushrooms and squash for ten minutes or until they soften. Place into a food processor and puree. Mix this into the cheese sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour this sauce over the noodles. Top this with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 35 minutes.

We got home, he showered quickly, and we all met at the table. I kept hoping this was going to be a success. My fingers were crossed. We ate as usual, discussing the day. Everybody said it tasted really good. Each person dug in for a second helping including Jack. Yay!! It worked. He had no idea he was eating vegetables. Next time, onions and garlic will be added. I am definitely going to get braver. Who knows, I may blend in some celery too.

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