Missy is a member of Parenting Magazine’s team of experts, the “Mom Squad,” a panel of high-profile experts who are featured regularly in the industry-leading magazine. She has been a cooking instructor at New York’s finest culinary schools, and also serves on the Children’s Advisory Council of New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, where Sneaky Chef recipes are served to patients. Sneaky Chef exclusive prepared foods are also featured and sold at select Whole Foods Markets.
Missy and her work have been featured in a variety of local and national media, including television appearances on the Today show, Fox & Friends, and 700 Club. Missy has also contributed to and been featured in many national magazines and websites, including SELF, First, Family Fun, and Scholastic Magazine, Education.com, ModernMom.com, HotMomsClub.com, SheKnows.com, Mamapedia.com and more.
Missy is the former publisher of Eating Well magazine and is the founder of BabySpa®, a natural baby product line. As a mother of two children, Lapine has been unstoppable in her commitment to share her passion for health and fitness. Her life has been dedicated to discovering the foods that will keep her loved ones strong and vital and exposing the foods that bring risk.
Location: Westchester, New York
Diet Detective: How did you become the Sneaky Chef? Were you always interested in the health and wellness space?
Missy Chase Lapine: I began thinking about healthy eating when I started to play competitive tennis in college. I needed every advantage I could get, and I quickly noticed that healthy eating gave me more lasting energy. Not so coincidentally, that’s also right about the time that I finished growing, i.e., I could no longer eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted! A few years later I found myself in the magazine business where I ultimately became publisher of Eating Well magazine. That job, plus two new baby girls, one of whom was an extremely picky eater, combined all of the necessary skills, needs and “ingredients” to bake a perfect sneaky chef!
Diet Detective: How did you learn to cook?
Missy Chase Lapine: Out of sheer necessity. Trying to get my beautiful little picky eaters to eat healthy food forced me to get creative. I dove into it like I did with everything else that I knew was important in my life. I got educated through books, videos, classes, and downright trial and error. I was so persistent and enthusiastic that I threw myself into cooking classes, got certified in the “master techniques of healthy cooking,” and ultimately was selected to be on the faculty of the New School of Culinary Arts in New York! I take certain things very seriously in life (though not everything!), and my kids’ health is at the top of the list.
Diet Detective: Don’t you think it’s difficult for today’s parents, many who hold down full time jobs, to be cooking and putting in all that extra effort to “sneak” in healthy foods?
Missy Chase Lapine: Actually, it takes more time and effort not to cook and to put in that extra 20 minutes a week to sneak in healthy foods. Why? Look at the results. Parents who don’t choose to take a little extra time to sow the seeds of good health through good nutrition end up with big problems in terms of their kids’ health, weight, attention span, moods, energy levels — the list goes on and on. Study after study shows the importance of good nutrition in kid’s lives (and our own). This should not make anyone feel guilty, but it should make people think about what it takes to achieve anything worthwhile in life. It’s the same with good health. A little effort reaps great rewards. Plus, if the few extra minutes in the kitchen help parents avoid just one food fight, uneaten meal, or visit to the pediatrician, then wasn’t it worth it?
Diet Detective: Should we actually be sneaking in “healthy” foods or is it better to teach our children to identify and eat healthier foods?
Missy Chase Lapine: Sneaking is not a substitute for teaching good nutrition. What sneaking does do, however, is take the pressure off the situation. Parents can relax in the knowledge that their kids are getting some desperately needed nutrition in every bite of the “sneaky” dish they’re serving, while still being a champion of the bowl of broccoli sitting right beside. In contrast, consider what was happening at meals prior to the arrival of The Sneaky Chef meal on the table: begging, bribing, threatening and even fighting with kids to eat their vegetables. What child can learn anything under that kind of pressure? The Sneaky Chef lets parents teach in a peaceful manner, knowing that their child is getting good, solid nutrition meal after meal. Now that makes for a healthy meal, and a healthy teaching environment.
Diet Detective: Also, don’t you think that kids simply copy what we eat? If we eat broccoli then they will. If we eat fries, then they will — right?
Missy Chase Lapine: There’s no question that children copy what we eat — and what everyone else eats. Therein lies the rub. TV ads, vending machines, supermarket aisles, other kids, fast food restaurants — everyone is pitching our kids’ appetites, with highly paid marketing professionals who are often more effective than we are. I don’t think we would have much problem getting them to eat what we wanted them to if there were no outside influences, assuming, of course, that we also ate that way!
Diet Detective: If you had to choose the most important factor in getting your kids to eat healthfully what would it be?
Missy Chase Lapine: This gets right back to your last question, set a good example with no pressure and stock the house with fresh, whole, unprocessed foods that are easy to grab and become the “norm.” Kids need a role model somewhere in the midst of all the processed food bombardment, and if it isn’t their parents, who is it going to be?
Diet Detective: What makes your methods different than others that have attempted to tackle the “getting your kids to eat more healthful” conundrum?
Missy Chase Lapine: Simple — It works. When I wrote The Sneaky Chef, there were lots of books telling us what foods we should feed our kids for good health, but not one that showed us how to get them to eat these healthy foods simply and successfully. As a mother, I’ve tried everything that is supposed to work, all to no avail: making smiley faces out of vegetables, serving vegetables a minimum of 15 times, mixing diced veggies into sauces, making asparagus log cabins — the list goes on and on. None of it worked, and I became exhausted trying. The Sneaky Chef is literally a how-to manual on how to get your kids to eat veggies, using simple techniques that work. Color-coded purees; choosing a specific flavor that masks the particular flavor of a vegetable; using “decoys” such as one calorie’s worth of powdered sugar on top of a muffin laden with invisible pureed carrots and yams. Once you see how easy it is to do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself (that’s a quote from many a reader).
Diet Detective: Should you forbid certain “sin” foods (cookies, cakes, ice cream candy, etc..)? Can it backfire? Should I tell my child that certain foods are “junk” food? Or is that also counterproductive?
Missy Chase Lapine: Forbidding certain foods certainly can, and often does, backfire. Studies show that there is a backlash effect from this that is revealing itself in all kinds of eating disorders. It is much better to teach moderation, and to make the cookies or cupcakes, for example, as healthy as they can be. Try substituting as much hidden whole grains, protein, veggies, legumes, etc., as you can get away with. If it tastes the same, but contains less unhealthy ingredients and far more healthy ones, is it really so “sinful” anymore? Don’t ban them, just make them better.
Diet Detective: Can children eat whenever they’re hungry or should they’re be defined eating periods?
Missy Chase Lapine: My philosophy on this is that kids know their bodies better than we do, and being in touch with their bodies is really what we want to teach them. It’s when kids get out of touch with how they’re feeling that they make poor food choices, just like we do. So if they’re hungry, they should eat. But seeing an ad on TV doesn’t make them hungry, it makes them think they want something. Teaching kids the difference between being truly hungry and thinking they desire something is a very valuable lesson.
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy breakfast for kids?
Missy Chase Lapine: I like to send my kids off to school with some protein, combined with fruit and whole grains — this gives long lasting energy that I know will hold them until lunch. My daughter Sammy just doesn’t like to eat anything in the morning, but then she’s starved by mid-morning. The only way I can tempt her to eat something early is to name it something irresistible, like “Breakfast Cookies” or “Breakfast Ice Cream.” So this was one of my biggest impetuses for sneaking. I began sneaking low fat ricotta cheese into whole grain cookies, and blending up frozen fruit and calling it ice cream. So my favorite breakfast? A little protein, whole grains and fruit, in whatever form I can get into them.
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient? What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?
Missy Chase Lapine: Tough question. It’s between spinach and white beans. I’d say the can of white beans is one of my favorites. This is because of the low fat/protein /fiber combination. Pureed white beans are bland in taste and color, and they hide very well in so many foods (like baked goods, sauces, even mac and cheese). Especially in baked goods, where they act to balance the sugar. With all the baked goods kids are eating these days, the protein can really help to avoid the sugar spike and crash and give longer lasting energy.
Diet Detective: What’s the one kitchen utensil or tool that you can’t live without?
Missy Chase Lapine: Definitely the mini food processor. It’s so easy to use, essential to pureeing, takes up very little room on the counter, cleans up in a flash, and most importantly, gets so many healthy foods into your kids invisibly. It’s worth its weight in gold 7mdash; no, even more!
Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?
Missy Chase Lapine: Oats. They’re a great source of high quality protein and soluble fiber (balances sugar highs and lows); have seven B vitamins and nine minerals, including iron and calcium; they contain gamma linoleic acid (an “activated” essential fatty acid); and they even clean out cholesterol. They’re a fantastic, high quality brain food, and they’re great for athletes.
Diet Detective: If you could eat one unhealthy food whenever you wanted without gaining weight, what would it be?
Missy Chase Lapine: Cookies! Soft, chewy, chocolate chip cookies. But, gaining weight is only one of the effects those little guys have. It’s the sugar spike and crash that would get me. So put some protein in, please!