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The Main Ingredients Challenge #2: Lunch For The Kids (Challenger Meal)

09/27/2013 02:16 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

While not wanting to use it as a crutch, I have to admit that after 11 years of parenting and having to cook for four kids, the creative side of my culinary skills isn't what it used to be. I've always loved cooking, especially the chance to invite friends for dinner and to stretch my skills -- to try new recipes and experiment while knowing that an appreciative audience is waiting to share with me. That doesn't happen much anymore.

With an 11-year-old, nine-year-old twins and an almost-four-year-old in the house, each with various food aversions, I begrudgingly have found myself settling for the path of least resistance. Quick, kid-friendly foods have become common in our house, and on several occasions even separate meals for the adults and the kids. I'm not proud of this, and I have been trying hard to change, which is why the offer to participate in this challenge seemed like a good way to break out of the culinary creative rut I've been in for too long.

The challenge presented to me was to come up with a lunch that was suitable for an entire family while using as many of a specific list of ingredients as possible. In this instance, my ingredient list was as follows: bok choy, apples, turkey, walnuts, lentils, whole wheat pita, edamame, squash, sweet potatoes, ricotta cheese, bananas and cauliflower.

The list presented a bigger challenge than I first expected since a few of these items are ones that seldom, if ever, make it to my kitchen. For instance, before I planned a recipe using lentils, I had to figure out just how to cook them. I racked my brains and scoured the internet trying to come up with some ideas that would A) be feasible and B) be appealing for both adults and kids. Given the tight deadline for this to be completed, I only had one chance to put something together, so the end results are likely to be far from what they'd be if tested till perfect. That said, I came up with something I was happy with, so I present to you the following:

Whole Wheat Pitas With Walnut Crusted Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs, Veggie Spread and Bok Choy-Apple Slaw

The Main Ingredients II: Challenger Meal #2

The Main Ingredients Used:

Whole wheat pitas

Turkey

Ricotta cheese

Bok choy

Cauliflower

Sweet potato

Lentils

Apples

Walnuts

Ingredients List:

Veggie Spread

• 1 cup (250 g) green lentils

• 1 cup (250 g) cauliflower florets

• 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

• 1 small onion (cubed)

• 30 mL (2 tbsp.) olive oil

• 250 mL (1 cup) low sodium chicken broth

• 1 tsp. each of: garlic powder, pepper, hot sauce

Turkey Ricotta Meatballs

• 450 g (1 lb.) ground turkey

• 250 g (9 oz.) ricotta cheese

• 1 egg

• 90 mL (3 oz.) bread crumbs, divided

• 60 mL (1/4 cup) milled flax seed

• 1 tsp. each of: garlic powder, pepper, crushed chili pepper flakes

• 100 g walnut pieces (3.5 oz.)

• 1 tsp. Pepper

• 30 mL (1 oz.) olive oil with

Bok Choy and Apple Slaw

• 3 full leaves bok choy (stems removed)

• 1 apple, peeled and cored

• 45 mL (1.5 oz.) plain Greek yogurt

• 15 mL (0.5 oz.) honey

Preparation: Rinse lentils in water using a strainer. Place in saucepan and cover with water using a 2-to-1 ratio compared to amount of lentils being used. Bring to a rapid simmer, then reduce heat and slow simmer about 20 to 30 minutes until lentils are soft. Add more water if necessary. Let cool.

Combine cauliflower florets, sweet potato and onion in a mixing bowl. Add olive oil and pepper, and then toss. Place items in a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 190 C (375 F) for 45 to 60 minutes, until soft. Let cool.

Combine lentils with vegetable medley in food processor. Add chicken broth, garlic powder, pepper and hot sauce. Puree until smooth.

Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl, mix together the ground turkey with ricotta cheese, egg, half of the bread crumbs, milled flax seed, garlic, pepper and chilli pepper flakes. Combine until consistency allows for creating patties. Pick up a small 2 - 3 cm amount of mix into hands and form them into small round patties. Place on foil or wax paper lined plate.

Using a kitchen mallet or food processor, crush the walnut pieces into the consistency of bread crumbs. Mix with remaining bread crumbs and pepper to taste on a plate. Roll turkey patties one at a time on the plate ensuring patty is evenly coated. Set aside.

In a large skillet, add vegetable oil and heat. Place patties into pan and cook about 2 - 3 minutes per side until coating is brown and crispy. Place patties on foil lined baking sheet and place in oven at 190 C (375 F) for about 25 minutes.

Thinly slice apples and bok choy leaves and place in mixing bowl. Combine with Greek yogurt and honey.

Slice open the top of a whole wheat pita and peel it open. Cut along sides if necessary to make larger opening. Coat insides with veggie spread, place two turkey balls inside, add slaw. Season to taste with hot sauce, or other condiments. OPTIONAL: add shredded light cheddar cheese into the pita. Seal up pita, cut and serve.

Makes 6 pita sandwiches

The Verdict: The end result turned into something very similar to what you'd see at a typical pita shop. Both my wife and I thought that it was delicious, while my kids mostly ran away, yet when asked to try a bite, admitted that it wasn't as bad as they thought. I used nine of the twelve ingredients in total.

This is something that took more time to prepare than I thought. That said, the patties and spread can be prepared ahead and warmed up quickly when needed. Going forward, I'd like to experiment with other ingredients and seasoning, but suffice to say it opened my eyes to some new possibilities. The kids still pose a challenge, but I'm determined enough to break them out of their pickiness, and challenges like this can only serve to stretch all of our limits.