THE BLOG

The Main Ingredients Challenge #4: Smorgasbord Meal (Challenger's Meal)

08/26/2013 08:31 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

I have something to admit right off the bat: my 18-month-old son Luke and I tend to eat at the dinner table topless, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife.

We are not food exhibitionists. Baby Luke is simply a very picky eater. If he doesn't like what we are feeding him, he'll either rub it all over his shirt or throw the food right back on my shirt. As such, we started eating dinner shirtless to avoid having to do extra laundry. Sometimes, I'll wear a necktie for special occasions.

Dining room attire is the least of our concerns at the dinner table, though. My wife is adamant about preparing healthy meals, while Luke and I can't stomach the bland taste of veggies and prefer meat. Another T-bone of contention: When my wife is in the kitchen, she prefers cooking well-thought out, time-consuming dishes. Whenever it's my turn to cook, I know I have to prepare something fast or my stomach will be furious.

My wife and I decided to team up in the kitchen to create a starter dish, entrée, and dessert that was entirely healthy, yet still tasty enough so that Lil' Luke wouldn't throw the food back at my face.

Luke is at an age where he tends to like "fun" and colourful looking food. As such, our plan was to use the ingredients to create three dishes that were visibly vibrant and enticing for our boy.

I had the pizza delivery guy's number set on speed dial -- just in case.

Smorgasbord Meal:

The Main Ingredients Challenger's Meal 4

Main Ingredients used (in total):

• Beets

• Berries

• Broccoli

• Avocados

• Almonds

• Fish

• Rolled oats

• Chickpeas

• Plain yogurt

• Dark green leafy lettuce

• Cheddar cheese

• Whole grain tortilla

APPETIZER: Avocado Salad

Ingredients list:

• Baby romaine lettuce, washed, torn into pieces

• 1 avocado, sliced

• Dressing: whisk together one part olive oil, two parts lemon juice, pepper and honey

Preparation: Place lettuce in bowl, scatter avocado on top and drizzle dressing.

THE ENTRÉE: Fish Tortilla with Red Pepper Hummus and Broccoli au-gratin

Red pepper hummus

Ingredients list:

• 60 mL (1/4 cup) canola oil, divided

• 1 whole sweet pepper

• 50 mL lemon juice

• 60 mL (¼ cup) tahini

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 1 can low sodium chickpeas, drained, rinsed

Preparation: Spread half of the oil on whole sweet pepper, bake in dish in oven at 180 C (350 F) until soft to touch, about 10-15 minutes. Remove, let cool, peel skin off, cut in half and remove seeds.

In food processor or blender, add lemon juice and tahini, mix until smooth. Add remaining oil, pepper to taste, and roasted sweet pepper. Process until smooth. Add half the chickpeas, process, and then add the remaining chickpeas. Process until smooth in texture.

Broccoli au-gratin (side dish)

Ingredients list:

• 1 head broccoli

• 4 eggs (whites only)

• 10 mL (2 tsp.) water

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 60 mL (¼ cup) breadcrumbs

• 125 mL (½ cup) shredded low fat Cheddar cheese

Preparation: Cut broccoli crowns into bite size.

Mix egg whites with water and pepper.

Dip broccoli into egg wash, and then dip into breadcrumbs.

Bake in oven for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle shredded Cheddar cheese on top before serving.

Fish tortilla

Ingredients list:

• 6-8 beets

• 340 g (12 oz. salmon filets, serves 4

• 1 whole onion, diced

• 15 mL (1 tbsp.) canola oil

• 125 mL (½ cup) water

• 1 tbsp. each of: low-sodium soy sauce, freshly ground black pepper, honey

• 4 whole wheat tortillas (1 per serving)

Preparations: Boil beets in water until soft and you can insert a fork into them easily. Remove from pot, let cool. Peel then cut into thin long strips.

Cut salmon filets into long, thick strips, about 2 cm (1 inch) wide each.

In a non-stick pan, add oil. Add onion and sauté. Add salmon, let simmer a bit. In a small bowl, combine water, soy sauce, pepper and honey.

Mix well and then pour evenly into pan of simmering salmon. Turn salmon over once first side is cooked. Remove pan from stove once salmon fully cooked.

Lay whole grain tortilla on plate; spread roasted pepper hummus on tortilla. Add beets and salmon, and roll.

THE DESSERT: Yogurt Berries Parfait

Ingredients list:

• 500 mL (2 cups) rolled oats

• 125 mL (½ cup) brown sugar

• 125 mL (½ cup) almond slivers

• 125 mL (½ cup) strawberries

• 125 mL (1/2 cup) raspberries

• 250 mL (1 cup) plain yogurt

Preparation: Mix rolled oats with brown sugar. Bake in oven at 180 C (350 F) until turning colour slightly.

Toast almond slivers at same temperature until turning colour slightly.

Slice strawberries into chunks.

Assembling the parfait: sliced strawberries and raspberries at bottom of bowl, add plain yogurt, sprinkle with oat mixture. Repeat as many layers as you want. Sprinkle toasted almond slivers on top.

The Verdict: I was shocked at how easy it was to prepare these dishes from scratch. All of the ingredients were easy to find at the grocery store. It was fun to work with my wife in the kitchen and reach a culinary compromise of healthiness and tastiness.

It's going to be hard for both of us to team-up in the kitchen together during the weekday, but preparing a healthy three-course meal might become a new weekend tradition in our family.

The salad was easy to make. We were a little ambitious with the broccoli au-gratin as a side dish but I loved how it came out so tasty and crunchy. I almost forgot I was eating broccoli. The fish tortilla didn't take very long to prepare and had a unique flavor thanks to the beets and hummus. The yogurt berries parfait, which was a tad tangy, was delicious and hit the spot.

Of course, we could critique and fawn over our own dishes like Iron Chef judges all we want -- but it would be all for not if Prince Luke tossed his meal back at us again.

Luke sat there in his high chair, as if it was an Iron Throne and he was waiting to judge our latest dinner offering. Salad was up first and the colours instantly intrigued him. However, he only picked away at the avocado, disregarding the rest of the starter dish. We considered it a minor victory considering I wasn't covered in salad yet.

When the entrée came out, Luke had a blast. We showed him how to spread hummus on the wrap, and then stuff it with salmon, beets and avocado. He was giggling and seemed to really enjoy this new dish. He was a mess afterwards but at least 80% of the food got into his mouth this time. When it was time for dessert, I found myself stealing a few spoonsful of yogurt berries parfait while feeding Luke.

Overall, we had a great time cooking as a family and enjoyed creating a healthy meal together. It turns out Luke might be open to eating healthier dishes after all... as long as they remain tasty. I'm not surprised, since the avocado doesn't fall far from the tree.