By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Sneaking vegetables into meals and snacks is an age old trick many parents learn to do almost as soon they’re kids start eating solids. Some kids immediately enjoy vegetables, while others might have more of an aversion. Adults also struggle to eat the recommended 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables, and many children are simply watching what their parents eat.
Studies show that kids who eat the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables have better learning outcomes , improved concentration, better behavior, stronger immunity and they also have better health outcomes all the way into adulthood including reduced risk in developing diabetes, obesity and infertility.
The ideal would be a child simply eating their vegetables with no complaints, objections or issues, but the reality is the taste, texture, visual and smell can put children off.
My own kids don’t like vegetables that have a slimy texture such as mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini and squash, so these vegetables I have to blend and hide in meals all the time. Having a good blender or food processer makes this particularly easy to do. Blend, mix and serve and down they go.
A growing trend with food companies advertising processed foods with hidden vegetables is working to help everyone eat more vegetables. As appealing as this sounds, it does bring some thoughts and concerns to the table.
Sure, eating an extra serving of vegetables in any meal is a plus but when it comes in the shape of highly processed foods then it can be negative. The flavor enhancers, highly refined grains, excess salt, added sugars and highly processed vegetable oils alter the palate to move away from natural foods.
Food additives have a negative impact by inhibiting the palate’s sensitivity away from natural flavours and tastes. Processed foods are carefully designed to be addictive and can move kids and adults alike away from enjoying natural flavours and tastes.
These foods can particularly influence a child’s palate which can have a lasting impact into adulthood. It can influences a child’s visual appeal of consuming processed foods as normal, eating uniform food pre-shaped meals and foods can also encourage further picky eating.
The very occasional processed meal is okay with an extra veggie serving as a plus, such as a pre-made cauliflower pizza crust or veggie burgers, but regularly consuming these processed foods is not ideal.
These meals and snacks offer very little in the way of nutrition with a slight bonus of an extra ½ cup serving of vegetables.
If you find any pre-packaged meal or snack that looks like it contains whole foods with extra vegetables then this would be a great fall back to keep in the freezer for the busy times.
Even better is to strive to make quick and easy meals at home with fresh produce without all the other unnecessary extras with hidden vegetables and fruits.
Sneaking more vegetables into meals that may be appealing can be easy. Hiding vegetables in pasta sauces, blended into sauces, soups, casseroles, pies and other meals is certainly an art form but quite easy.
Vegetable juices and smoothies are an easy way to sneak in more fruits and vegetables. Juicing allows fruits and vegetables to be mixed so strong-flavored fruits can help cover up and mask the less appealing vegetables. Juices also delete the textural issue that children (and some adults) often have with certain fruits and vegetables so adding in these bonus drinks is certainly a major plus.
Here are some comfort food recipes with a healthy spin that includes extra vegetables and fruits.
Vegan, Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Mac N’ Cheese – the pumpkin can be mashed up in the cheesy sauce and you can omit the spinach if it is too much
Cauliflower Fettuccini Alfredo with Mushrooms – using cauliflower as a white sauce base is an easy and delicious way to include cauliflower in your child’s diet or this one Vegan, Noodle-Free Alfredo Zucchini Pasta
Herbed Pea Fritters – any veggie burger patty can include mashed vegetables that are hidden
Vegetable Juice Pulp Wraps – these are easy to make using left over vegetable pulp