Hiding Vegetables – A Win-Win

September 20, 2011 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Psychology of Food, Weight Management, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

After reading an article entitled “Hiding vegetables to reduce energy density: an effective strategy to increase children's vegetable intake and reduce energy intake” that was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on September 2011; I noticed that the article made me think of several experiences and observations from my past. If you click on the link you can read the abstract, or if you want more info you can visit your favorite university library.

  • First, I noticed that the study was done with 3- to 5-year-old children. It took me back to the years that I struggled to get vegetables into an adult male. In addition, we have some family members and a number of friends who ‘don’t like' vegetables. My point is that the results of this study are helpful to manage vegetable intake for children, but in addition, there are plenty of adults who would benefit from increased vegetable consumption. In my past, eventually the ‘rule’ became, “If it can’t be seen, and tastes good,  it’s acceptable.” That opened a wide gate of opportunity. I’ll give a few ideas below.
  • Secondly, the study made me appreciate that many people still might still not realize that eating vegetables is a wonderful way to reduce the total energy density (calorie intake) for a day. If you only read the abstract of the link above, you will notice, that both the consumption of vegetables went up and the calories went down at the same time. Certainly, this should count as a Win-Win.
  • Another observation was that vegetables were included that the children did not like. Putting vegetables in with flavorful herbs, disguised as part of the sauce, filler or baked item, is one of the best ways to make a delicious presentation of vegetables.
  • In the study, vegetable side dishes were still served; and interestingly, adding pureed vegetables into the entrée did not affect the consumption of the side dishes. So you see, another win-win. If the entrée with stealthily concealed extra vegetables added is viewed as the main dish, then the side dish vegetables will still be consumed. What great information!
  • What can we learn from this study? In my mind, one of the most important outcomes was that the calories consumed dropped by 142 kcals/day on average – it was about 12% lower. Even if you don’t have a child that eschews vegetables, you could use this information to increase vegetable consumption at the same time as taking in fewer calories. Heaven knows that there is an obesity epidemic, so whether we’re obese or just want to manage a healthy weight this is a prime way to do it. Certainly, little 3- to 5-year olds don’t need as much food as an adult; so you would expect an even greater calorie benefit when adding vegetables to an adult’s menu.
  • The children in the study were allowed to eat as much as they wanted; they ate similar weights of food whether they were eating the pureed vegetables or the traditional recipes. And the children liked the both recipes. This is such nice evidence of something that I speak about frequently. That is; if you pile on the vegetables, you will eat less of the other items.
  • Recipes used in study: Zucchini bread at breakfast, pasta with tomato-based sauce at lunch and chicken noodle casserole at dinner and evening snack. They chose these foods because they were similar to foods typically served at the daycare facilities (where the study was conducted), and vegetable contents could be manipulated while maintaining a similar appearance, taste, and texture. The vegetables used in the study were: zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, and squash.

Some of the ways that I’ve incorporated vegetables into recipes are:

  1. The number one way was in pasta sauce. It is amazing what can be done with a blender, food processor, or a grater. Summer squash, like zucchini, was one of the main additions I used to use. In a can of tomato paste, chunks of zucchini or other squash can be blended; or grated squash can be stirred into prepared marinara sauce. Certainly, fresh parsley, basil, Swiss chard, carrots, collards, onions, are all flavorful vegetables that can be blended into sauce. The sauce can be served over other foods besides pasta, for example, served over spaghetti squash. It’s the flavor that makes it enjoyable.
  2. A vegetable packed meatloaf that can be topped with pasta sauce loaded with vegetables (see above) is one way of ‘vegifying’ a traditional American dish. Some people just stir in a package of frozen mixed vegetables into their standard meatloaf recipe. I used to mix in grated zucchini and/or carrots.
  3. Dr. Grandma’s Muffins Your Way, are used in recipes that add pumpkin, apples, zucchini, carrots, bananas, blueberries, peaches, apricots, applesauce, and orange. Serving a muffin (call it a cupcake, if you like) for a snack, dessert or breakfast, sounds like a treat. But if it’s made with whole wheat (no white flour), no sugar, and added fruits, nuts and vegetables, you can feel very clever. Can you believe it? Another win-win. Dessert you can feel good about!
  4. One of my daughters mashes cauliflower whenever they want to enjoy a mashed potato side. One cup of mashed potatoes with butter and milk is about 237 calories – a cup of mashed cauliflower is 60 calories, despite being made with butter. This is a pretty good illustration of what can happen if you begin to ‘vegify’ your menus, whether with stealth, or up-front.

Lastly, I’m so glad that I no longer have to ‘hide’ vegetables. It’s really refreshing that the vegetables prepared for Vic are so graciously and enthusiastically received. It’s really nice to be a creative cook who uses large amounts of vegetables and not have to hide them. But to those of you who want the health benefits for yourself, your family, and your loved ones who don’t love vegetables, I believe that ‘hiding’ them can be a good beginning. Who knows? Maybe one day their taste buds will grow up and realize that vegetables really can be quite wonderful. If it hasn’t worked out earlier, this is the time when you reveal your stealthy ways over the years to get them to this healthy and enlightened level of maturity. Meantime, beware of blowing your cover! Hating and refusing vegetables is a childish “right” defended by some adults right up to their death. But in all cases, let your creative genius come alive. Good Health Can Be Yummy! (If you have the know-how to make it so).