Sneaky cooking – how to hide vegies in everyday food

It’s common for toddlers – and older kids – to refuse whole food groups like vegetables. According to NSW Health, less than 50% of children aged two to four years consume the recommended amount of vegetables. Not surprising since children have more tastebuds than adults, so food tastes stronger to them. In particular, vegetables taste bitter. But with some clever cooking techniques you can hide vegies in everyday food by camouflage and blending. Here are a few tips and recipe ideas…

-   Puree or finely chop white veggies i.e. cauliflower and peeled zucchini, and mix with a white cheese sauce.
-    Puree roast red capsicum and carrots together and mix with a tomato pasta sauce.
-    Puree steamed carrot, sweet potato and cooked red lentils to make a dip.
-    Finely chopped mushrooms and roasted eggplant and blend well with tomato based sauces and bolognaise.


Action Packed Meatballs
Baked meatballs with sneaky vegetables and no extra fat. These meatballs are packed with essential vitamins and minerals especially iron, for kids who mean serious action!

1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, finely copped
200g lean lamb mince
2 tablespoons pumpkin, peeled and finely grated
2 tablespoons zucchini, peeled and finely grated
¼ cup breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1.    Preheat oven to 200C. Heat oil in a non-stick frypan on low heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes ‘til soft and translucent.
2.    Meanwhile, add all the other ingredients into a mixing bowl. When onion and garlic are cooked, add to the mixing bowl.
3.    Wet hands with a little water and combine mixture.  Tip –Wet hands prevents the mixture sticking to your hands. Then fill each hole of an ungreased mini muffin tin with meat mixture and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked and browned on top. Cool for a few minutes, turn out of tin and serve. Makes 12. Best eaten on the day but can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days or portion out uncooked mixture and freeze for up to 1 month.

Quick bolognaise surprise
Packed with iron and loads of fibre, this bolognaise sauce is delicious. A quick and easy sauce to have on hand. It freezes well and most kids love it!

2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
250g lean beef mince
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
½ cup tinned brown lentils, drained and rinsed
¾ cup passata (Italian pureed tomatoes)
1 cup beef stock, homemade or low salt
1 bay leaf
Finely grated nutmeg to taste

1.    Heat oil in a large heavy based frypan. Add onion, garlic and mushroom then sauté on low heat for 2 minutes. Add mince and cook until brown breaking the mince up as it cooks. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to boil.
2.    Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes (depending how thick you like your sauce), stirring occasionally. Serve warm with pasta, cooked grain, mashed potato or on your favourite pizza base. Makes 4 cups. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Shrek pasta sauce
A creamy green pasta sauce, which is a great way for kids to eat their greens and something a little different.  Greens are high in antioxidants, as well as essential vitamins and minerals for the body. Use any of your kids favourite green vegetables combined with one they wouldn’t normally eat. See if they notice the difference. The combinations are endless!

1 cup fresh or frozen mixed green vegetables
2 tablespoons hot water, reserved from the steamer
2 tablespoons cream cheese

1.    Heat a medium saucepan ¼ filled with water. Bring to the boil and place steamer on top. Steam vegetables for 1-1 ½ minutes until lightly cooked. TIP use sweet green vegetables i.e. peas, sugar snaps mixed with more bitter greens i.e. broccoli, zucchini etc, to help hide the bitterness.
2.    Tip vegetables into a small food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend for 1 minute until smooth.
3.    Stir 2 tablespoons of sauce through a bowl of hot pasta and serve with grated cheese. Makes ½ cup sauce that when stirred through pasta makes a great accompaniment to a meal for parents and a child to enjoy. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Energy dip
Give your kids the energy they need.  Lentils are a good source of protein, and high in fibre along with sweet potato and carrots. A low GI naturally sweet tasting dip that’s good for them!

1 tsp olive oil
¼ cup onion, finely diced
¼ cup red lentils, rinsed
1 cup homemade vegetable stock or low salt stock
½ cup sweet potato, peeled and diced
½ cup carrot, peeled and diced
¼ cup cheddar cheese, grated

1.    Heat the olive oil on low heat in a small saucepan. Add onion and sauté for a few minutes until soft and translucent.
2.    Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and reduce heat to a simmer, cooking for a further 15 minutes or until vegetables and lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. When cooked, add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted.
3.    Add to a food processor and pulse until you have the right consistency that your child can handle. Serve with vegetable crudités, crackers or toasted pita bread.
Makes 1½ cups. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Cherie Lyden is a  Nutritionist and Mother –