While we can always reason with our little ones the positive effects of eating healthy, we can’t reason with their unadventurous, discriminating taste buds. Although our children like chicken, beef, pork and even fish, they also need to eat the glow food group that includes fruits and vegetables.
Fruits aren’t that hard to feed the kids because they’re generally sweet and succulent. It’s the veggies that seem to be more challenging. Take for instance the nutritious ampalaya. I for one started eating ampalaya (and enjoying it) by the time I was in college. It’s rare for young kids to eat such a bitter vegetable. Some grownups won’t even eat it until perhaps they become diabetic.
So, Pinoy mommies, how do we introduce vegetables into our family’s diet? One trick is to “hide” vegetables somewhere in the food we prepare, make it look and taste so yummy, choosy kids no longer question the meatiness of the food. Now, pasta dishes is among the few favorite things kids like. Here we list down 10 nutritious veggies we can add to lasagna, spaghetti or any pasta recipe to make it not only cheaper, but more importantly, healthier.
There are different kinds of mushroom, and they all taste earthy and savory. Some are very expensive like shitake and Portobello, but oysters (fresh) and buttons (canned) are relatively easier on the pocket. Mushrooms are the most popular vegetables added to pasta and other Italian cuisine. When adding mushrooms to your pasta, chop them in small pieces if your kids don’t like to eat mushrooms. That way they easily blend with the ground meat, and take on the meaty taste.
Zucchini or courgette is a cousin of the squash and eggplant. It’s now cultivated here in the Philippines, and widely available in most groceries and public markets. Give it a good wash, chop and throw at the last minute to the pasta sauce. You can also slice them into thin circles and layer as you would a lasagna noodle. Add plenty of cheese to make it more flavorful.
Cauliflower is a resilient vegetable. You can cook it tender, blend and make soup, or stir fry it and serve crispy and fresh. When adding to pasta, place into food processor along with some bell pepper to desired size or consistency. Add to your sauce to blend in the flavor, and dress your pasta dish with your cauliflower sauce.
Celery may not be a popular vegetable for Filipinos, but they are a staple today in our groceries and markets. If you want your family to try this vegetable, finely chop its stems and sauté into your sauce foundation along with garlic and onion. The small bits of cauliflower will merge with your creamy white sauce or even your tomato-base sauce, your kids won’t notice.
The spinach in other countries are a close cousin to our humble alugbati, also known as Malabar spinach. Other than soups and sautés, the green nutritious alugbati leaves can give your pasta dish a healthy boost of flavor, color and nutrients. Make a pesto or meat sauce with spinach that’s been pulsed in the food processor or chopped finely by hand. Tell your kids you’re serving them green pasta this time.
Carrots are orange in color, and blends easily in tomato-based pasta sauces when grated or pulsed in the food processor. Chopped finely, carrots can also enhance the color of your dish. I learned that adding grated carrots to a beef lasagna sauce not only makes it nutritious, but also colorful and delectable.
Eggplant is commonly used in lasagna, but you can also grill the vegetable, take off its peel and mash before adding to your pasta sauce. Unless you are allergic to the vegetable, eggplant is actually very tasty, especially when paired with meat and other herbs.
3. Singkamas (Mexican Turnip)
Singkamas has long been used by Filipinos as extender as in the case of siomai and lumpia. It is bland, so it can easily adapt the flavor of any dish and adds moisture and texture at the same time. When added to your regular pasta sauce, singkamas can make it creamier, thicker, and cheaper – because you can cut in half the amount of meat in your sauce.
Squash is one vegetable that’s a regular to Filipino markets. We Pinay moms have cooked squash many times over in soups and stir-fries. But perhaps we’re not too keen with adding squash to our spaghetti, but it’s really easy. Clean the squash, remove its skin, cut into cubes and boil in salted water until tender. Mash it until smooth and blend with tomato paste (not tomato sauce). Squash makes your pasta sauce creamy, sweet, and healthy for your whole family to enjoy.
1. Potato/Sweet Potato
Like squash, potato when mashed gives your pasta sauce a creamy texture, when using sweet potato, you won’t need to buy pre-made sauces with sweet Filipino-style flavoring. You also don’t need to add cream or milk. Simply dilute with your noodle cooking water to achieve desired consistency. Potato and sweet potato can take up the meat flavor of the little minced beef or pork you put into your sauce.
If you’re a prudent Pinoy mom like me, you’d add extenders to meat dishes not to compromise flavor, but to cut on cost and at the same time incorporate vegetables into our family’s diet. Truth be told, we don’t ever make pure meat bola-bola, even if we can help it. Aside from adding some starch or flour, we also add in finely chopped onions and garlic, and perhaps some vegetables like bell pepper, carrots and sayote.
We know that minced beef or pork is delicious, but they’re very expensive, too. Cooking pure meat bola-bola not only drains our grocery budget, but also fuels our kids’ desire to eat only meat dishes. Having vegetables as sides to a meal may not work, if anything, it makes it easier for kids to ditch the fiber-and-nutrient-rich vegetables. If the goal is to make them eat vegetables and enjoy it, the trick is to “hide” vegetables into the food that we serve.
Care to improve our list? If you know of other vegetables or other ways to incorporate vegetables covertly into recipes, please share them with us. We’d like to learn new cooking ideas and give it a try in our own kitchen. Happy, healthy eating everyone!