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Simple Sides: Butternut Squash Chocolate Chip Cookies

Image of Chocolate Chip CookiesChildren in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food, and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy, and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and to identify where adult attention might be needed.

Image of kids

Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.

One of the first cooking lessons that many kids experience is baking a batch of cookies. Unfortunately, the basic ingredients for any cookie are fat, eggs, sugar, and flour. Here’s a healthier version of the most popular of all cookies, the chocolate chip that is the perfect, simple starter recipe for very young children or a first-time-in-the-kitchen-kid to build culinary confidence. The recipe replaces the empty calories in both the white flour and sugar without sacrificing taste and nutrition. However, nutrition means nothing to kids if the cookie does not pass the taste test. It will– chewy, moist, and coco sweet, the Cookie Monster would approve!

Sugar is overrated as a flavor additive at best and the root cause of obesity in children at its worst. There are better options, even in cookies. Butternut squash is naturally sweet and moist with a slightly nutty flavor. The squash is not only tasty but also packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Adding cinnamon and nutmeg to this naturally sweet squash will enhance that sweetness even more. Pureed and combined with almond flour makes a great cookie dough!

Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash is very kid-cook friendly as this pre-cooked item totally eliminates the tedious prep of peeling, seeding, and cubing this tasty but high-maintenance ingredient. All your helpers have to do is open the box and transfer the contents into a food processor. No need not drain the package either, as the little bit of liquid in each pouch will be absorbed by the almond flour later in the recipe.

Once the squash has been processed, the puree is combined in stages with the rest of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Almond flour is not really flour but rather finely ground almonds that replace white flour’s “empty calories” with the nut’s vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Though small in size, cacao nibs are packed with an impressive amount of nutrients. Nibs are the least processed cocoa products on the market and are substantially lower in sugar than other chocolate products, making them a healthier alternative for chocolate lovers. Unlike many chocolate products, cacao nibs are naturally low in sugar. They’re also a good source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats— nutrients that help promote feelings of fullness.

Your helpers can then scoop out a few tablespoons at a time, form small balls with clean hands and place them on the baking sheet. Be sure enough room is left between each to squish each ball down into a round cookie shape. The cookies come out of the oven rather tender but will firm up quite quickly and then they can be moved to a cooling rack. For young and old alike, one of the delights in life is a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk! Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, these tasty cookies will keep at least five days– though they seem to “disappear” long before that! Enjoy.

Butternut Squash Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: about 20
Image of steamed butternut squash and cocoa nibs

2 packages Melissa’s Steamed Butternut Squash, pureed
½ cup melted vegetable spread, like Shedd’s Spread
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup cocoa nibs

What the supervising adult should do:
Using Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash makes this recipe a one-bowl recipe with very little prep. Oversee both the use and clean-up of the food processor (a teaching moment). A child of any age who knows their numbers can measure out each ingredient. It’s probably best to handle the oven.

Image of blender with butternut squash

What the kids can do:
Place the pre-cooked Butternut Squash cubes directly from the packages and purée in a food processor.

Image of cookie ingredients

Transfer the purée to a large mixing bowl, stir in the melted veggie spread and vanilla, then add the almond flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, egg and salt to the bowl. Mix well to combine until a thick, slightly wet dough forms.

Image of mixing cookie ingredients

Finally, fold in the nibs and combine thoroughly.

Image of cookies on cookie sheet

Scoop out large clumps of dough, about 2 tablespoons, and roll into balls. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Then squish each ball down to form a round cookie. Bake at 375°F for 15 minutes until the edges have turned slightly golden.

Image of butternut squash chocolate chip cookies

Transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Enjoy with a glass of cold milk.

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