While I am usually a pretty savvy master of disguise when it comes to hiding vegetables in food, I’ve been called out by family members under age 12 for hiding cauliflower florets in macaroni and cheese, putting chopped spinach into brownies, and stirring puréed butternut squash into lasagna. So recently, I decided that rather than hide healthy ingredients, I would leave them, in small amounts, in plain sight.
My kids adore cheesy stuffed shells blanketed in tomato sauce and topped with more cheese. Last time I made shells, I added chopped spinach to some but not all of them. I figured those who really didn’t like the veggie version could just eat plain cheese-stuffed shells. Also, because some kids don’t love ricotta, I left that out and doubled up on mozzarella. Predictably, the shells made with spinach were not an instant hit. But surprisingly, some eaters didn’t seem to notice the offending veggie and asked for more.
This is a great dish to make with little ones. Prepare it together over the weekend, cover with foil, refrigerate, and then bake and serve on Monday night. Round out the meal with garlic bread and salad if they appeal to your kids, and applesauce if they don’t.
What You’ll Need
- ¾ of a 12-ounce package of jumbo shells
- 1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups mozzarella cheese, divided (use packaged grated to save time)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Pinch of black pepper
- 3 cups tomato sauce (your favorite)
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
What to Do
- In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook shells according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool.Teachable Moment: What Your Kids Don’t Know About Pasta
- Pasta makes you happy. The carbs in pasta boost the body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that activates feelings of happiness and well-being.
- The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, introduced pasta to America in 1789.
- Pasta comes in lots of shapes, including spaghetti, penne, and spaghettini. There are more than 600 different shapes of pasta worldwide.—Food Network
- Show your miniature chef how to crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them lightly with a fork. Then invite her to add the beaten eggs and 3 cups of mozzarella cheese to the spinach. Demonstrate how to measure and add the pepper and salt. Then let your child mix the ingredients with a big wooden spoon while you preheat the oven to 375°F.Teachable Moment: 4 Fun Spinach Facts
- Back in medieval times, artists used the green pigment from spinach as ink or paint.
- Spinach is a native plant of Persia (modern-day Iran).
- Today, China is the world’s largest spinach producer, with 85 percent of global production. The U.S. is next, at a mere 3 percent!
- Different types of spinach can have very different features: dark green, crinkly, curly leaves; smooth, flat leaves; or slightly crinkled leaves.—Mobile Cuisine
- Pour ½ cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of a large (9 x 13-inch) baking pan. Show your foodie how to stuff the shells with the spinach-and-cheese filling and place them in the baking pan. Make sure the shells are in a single layer.
- Carefully pour, or have your helper pour, the leftover sauce over the shells and sprinkle the two cheeses.
- Cover the pan with foil, place in oven, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until hot. Enjoy!