Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Sneaky Vegetable

Like most kids, Kiddo is going through a picky eating phase. Getting him to eat vegetables is, well... short of sitting on him and forcing them down his throat, it's darn near impossible. Duct tape doesn't help, either.

So I've gotten good at the fine art of hiding vegetables.

A note about vegetable quality: It's been suggested that frozen vegetables are the highest quality. Why? Unless you live in an area that grows lots of fresh produce, most produce is force-ripened or picked green and allowed to ripen during shipment. This doesn't allow the nutrition value to develop to it's fullest. Canned vegetables, even the low-salt varieties, almost always have salt added. Frozen vegetables are usually allowed to ripen fully, then they're blanched and flash-frozen. And if you read the labels you can always find no-salt brands.

One of the easiest ways to sneak vegetables is to grate or shred them. Chopping them really fine works too, but who has that kind of time? Grated carrots and zucchini darn near melt away in anything you make. Frozen spinach is a good one too. It doesn't disappear but it's impossible to avoid.

Macaroni and Cheese is a perfect base for hiding veggies on your child. It's got cheese in it, and the veggies stick to the macaroni. If you keep them small enough they don't even notice. I'm an advocate of Kraft Easy Mac, which is dirt cheap at the warehouse clubs (like 28 cents a serving), fortified to the max, and just the right serving size for kids.

Spaghetti sauce. Now there's a serious Mom nutrition tool. Tomatoes are one of those magic veggies (you're gonna tell me it's a fruit, right? Bzzzzt, no points for you! Technically it's a berry.) that are packed with all kinds of great nutrition and are usually easy to get kids to eat in the form of pasta sauce or pizza sauce.

Tomatoes have health benefits you can't tie to vitamins and nutrition labels. Studies have shown that tomatoes are packed with lycopene, which is connected to the prevention of all kinds of diseases, especially cancers. Interestingly enough, tomatoes are better for you cooked, as cooking breaks down cell walls, releasing and concentrating carotenoids. Eating tomatoes with a small amount of fat enables lycopene to be better absorbed. Then add that tomatoes are a great source of vitamin A and C, and you have maximum nutrition.

See that bit about a small amount of fat? That's right... meat sauce is good for you.

So, we have cancer and disease fighting elements, works better with fat, tons of vitamins, easy to hide shredded mystery vegetables in, and your kids will eat it... what's not to love about spaghetti sauce?

Hubby makes phenomenal spaghetti sauce. It takes him all day. He chops and minces and sautes and stirs and simmers then sits down to play Call of Duty 2 while I clean the kitchen. (Okay, he's gotten lots better at cleaning as he goes. Love you Honey!) Unfortunately, his spaghetti requires lots of fresh ingredients that cost more than I can spend, so usually we get my budget version. There's nothing at all wrong with my budget version, it's just that his sauce is... so darn good!

$6 Spaghetti Sauce

The basic sauce is cheap to make. This recipe makes a lot, I can get four or five meals out of it. Freeze extra sauce in airtight containers (I prefer containers over freezer bags for sauce 'cause the bags always seem to leak when I thaw them). A note about freezing: my sauce always seems to separate a little and get watery when I thaw it. I add a small can of tomato paste to thicken it up after thawing.

1 #10 can of tomato sauce or puree
1 #10 can of diced or chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or two teaspoons of jarred minced garlic
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
1 large can of tomato paste (12 oz)

(#10 cans are the big food service sized cans. I get these at my local warehouse club, total cost for the two cans is about $4.75.)

Throw all ingredients in a really big pot. Cook over medium heat until it begins to bubble, then cover and reduce heat. Let it simmer all day, stirring regularly. Tomato sauces get more flavorful the longer they sit, so keeping it in the fridge overnight is great. Remember to put your sauce in the fridge while it's still hot to inhibit bacteria growth.

Making it $10-$15 Sauce:

Add any of the following or whatever your family likes. Remember that spaghetti sauce will gain flavor as it cooks and sits, so a little goes a long way. Often to save money I'll freeze the basic $6 recipe and add whatever I want to the smaller batch when I thaw it. These quantities are for the big batch.

1 pound of Italian sausage or hamburger
2 bell peppers, any color, diced
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 cup of fresh chopped mushrooms
1 medium shredded or diced zucchini
1 cup grated carrots (yes, carrots. You won't taste them, they'll just make it a teeny sweeter)
2 cups chopped fresh spinach or 1 cup frozen spinach
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Bay Leaf

Since we're doing tomato sauce, let's whip out my Best Kept Secret for sneaking veggies: Pizza.

Pizza is considered "eat in moderation" by my WIC nutritionist because most pizza is high in fat. All the cheese, pepperoni, sausage and stuff has fat, and on pizza it doesn't run off, it sits there to give us all that greasy goodness.

But your kids don't know that! Here's inexpensive kid sized pizzas that are really fast and as an added bonus, kids like to help make them.

Healthy Kid Pizza

For one pizza:

1 Whole-wheat Pita bread round
2-3 tablespoons of tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce
1/4-1/3 cup low-fat
shredded mozzerella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Assemble pizza(s). Hide shredded or fine-chopped veggies (small so they can't be picked off) under the cheese. Bake on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

It has nothing to do with tomatoes, but while we're sneaking veggies I have to share this fantastic recipe I found. Chocolate Zucchini Bread. This particular quick bread is very cake-like; you could just about bake it in cake pans and frost it. I adore chocolate, so I use Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, but regular cocoa works well too.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups zucchini (grated)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 cup nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift all dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, combine sugars, oil and eggs. Add dry ingredients, zucchini and nuts until all are moistened. Grease and flour bread pans. Bake in mini bread pans for about 35 minutes. For large bread pans, bake about an hour. Use a cake tester to test for doneness.

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