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Simple Sides: Crispy Lentil Power Balls

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Children 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.

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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.

Here’s a healthy snack food recipe that can provide both an energy boost as well as a between-meals appetite suppressor for the whole family with just a quick stop at the refrigerator. The only problem might be the need to post a guard at that fridge door to limit those pit stops! A whole plate of these deliciously addicting superfood balls have been known to disappear overnight without the refrigerator door ever being opened, according to still-chewing witnesses.

This dish’s easy, one-bowl preparation is perfect for the beginner cook. Even the youngest helpers who know their numbers can measure out and combine all the ingredients. However, the lentils need to make a quick visit to the oven first. Since the key to turning Melissa’s Steamed Lentils crispy starts with a few hours of air-drying before baking, the recipe suggests that the supervising adult take care of this pre-prep task before the kids arrive in the kitchen to help. Once dried sufficiently, let the kids prep them for the oven with the oil and seasonings before handing the baking sheet off to the adult in the room for the final bake.

After the lentils have cooled and have been added to the mix along with the peanut butter and agave, shaping the ingredients into round bites is literally child’s play between small but experienced palms, so the supervising adult should let the experts take over! Hint: have a bowl of water on the ready, wetted hands seem to form the cleanest rounds. A periodic hand washing also is necessary during this process as the mixture is a bit messy. The newly formed energy balls should be laid out on a tray covered with parchment paper and refrigerated for at least 60 minutes, though overnight is best. Don’t forget to post that guard!

Let there be no doubt that these tasty POWER BALLS are packed with healthy ingredients: Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. They’re also a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Two compounds found in cinnamon appear to inhibit the buildup of a protein called tau in the brain, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. The humble coconut is a superfood for fueling the body with clean fat and digestible protein; rich in fiber, coconuts may offer a number of benefits, including improved heart health, weight loss, and digestion. Oats are a natural energy source and are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that naturally helps lower cholesterol reabsorption. Chia Seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of high-quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants. Cacao nibs contain many antioxidants. These antioxidants can help reduce cell damage in the body, which helps prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and cancer. Peanut butter also contains omega-6. This fatty acid lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol and increases protective (HDL) cholesterol. In addition, peanuts are a natural source of arginine, an amino acid that may prevent heart and vascular disease by promoting good blood vessel function. More importantly, who can resist the crunchy goodness of a ball of peanut butter laced with crispy lentils flavored with cocoa, coconut and cinnamon?

Crispy Lentil Peanut Bites
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Ingredients
1 package Melissa’s Steamed Lentils (rinsed, separated, and air-dried)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon coconut flour
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups dry quick oats
¼ cup Melissa’s Dried Coconut Chips
¼ cup Melissa’s Chia Seeds
¼ cup Melissa’s Organic Cocoa Nibs
1 cup peanut butter*
1/2 cup Melissa’s Agave
*Use only natural style peanut butter—stir the oil to combine.

What the supervising adult should do:
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Before your helpers arrive in the kitchen, rinse and separate the clumps of Melissa’s Steamed Lentils right out of the package. Then spread them out on a paper towel, pat dry, and let air dry for at least an hour. Also, handle the baking of the lentils after your helpers have prepared them. Cook at 400°F for 15 minutes, stirring them around about halfway and keeping a watchful eye to avoid burning. Set the crispy lentils aside to cool.

What the kids can do:
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Place the lentils in a small mixing bowl and mix with olive oil to coat. Then mix in the cinnamon, coconut flour and salt.

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Using a spatula or the flat side of a pie server, spread the seasoned lentils out in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then hand off to a supervising adult to be baked.
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In a large mixing bowl, first blend all the dry ingredients—oats, chia, coconut, nibs and the crispy lentils once they are cooled. Then stir in the agave and peanut butter until a dough-like texture is formed.
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Roll about two heaping tablespoons of this mixture between wetted palms to form balls, place on a parchment paper covered tray and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, though overnight is best.

Store in the fridge on a plate for easy access; the balls can also be frozen.




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