Processed foods rich in refined carbohydrates & nutrient deficient calories dominate our supermarket shelves. We’ve developed a real taste for these foods, & unfortunately, when we’re consuming them regularly, we begin to lose our appreciation for real, natural, unprocessed foods (with the fibre still intact). Natural food just becomes less & less desirable when forced to compete with ‘food’ designed to get you addicted. You see this especially with toddlers, kids & teens – but adults are definitely not immune.
The processed food situation is one factor behind bowel cancer. This type of cancer is linked to diets chronically low in fibre & high in processed foods & meat, so since June is bowel cancer awareness month, I thought these tips for hiding more veggies in typical family foods could be timely – wether it’s just the kids who hate veggies, or maybe a fussy adult in your household who could be at high risk for bowel cancer!
Some kids are super-sensitive to tastes & textures & it seems all they want to eat is sausages, chips, pasta & crackers! I don’t advise you to ‘just let them grow out of it’, as in my experience – kids who get away with eating just sausages & chips as kids often continue to do so, & they don’t get used to the tastes & textures of vegetables & salads the way kids who are brought up on them daily do. You either do the introductory work when your kids are young, or pay the price for it later with ongoing fussiness, nutrient deficiencies & the health issues that arise from them. Getting veggies in can be hard work at times, but it pays off – & there are many ways to sneak things in / introduce gradually so food doesn’t turn into a battleground!
It’s not only kids who experience trouble eating their veggies, I speak to adults who are old enough to realise they should be eating more veggies, but still struggle with textures / tastes & do not eat very many at all! Because they find it difficult to eat veggies themselves – they’re unable to enforce good vegetable-eating habits in the kids, so the issue gets passed down & compounded!
Below are some easy & inexpensive dishes, perfect for getting more veggies into the ‘average Aussie family’ diet. You’ll notice most of these dinners use mince as a base – it’s inexpensive & kids are generally pretty good with it, plus it allows you to hide a lot of sneaky veg in it! You can experiment with beef, chicken, lamb, kangaroo or pork. Make it free range & grass fed wherever you possibly can (ask your butcher or farmer at the markets). Whilst I ethically agree with & have experimented myself with both a vegetarian & vegan diet, I feel that for rapidly growing kids, some animal derived foods are very useful nutritionally, & are generally a great vehicle to get more veggies in. Look for & make a point to support producers who operate on a small scale & treat their animals with more care, & incorporate loads of veggies & plant foods in so that meat isn’t playing the starring dietary role, but is there in smaller quantities to supply the nutritional bits that plants don’t cover.
Meatballs / Patties
A better option for BBQ’s than the kid-favourite sausages, as you can pack them full of veggies & ensure there’s no cheap fillers or weird hidden stuff! The secret here is to chop everything really finely. Using a food processor is easiest if you have one – very wise investment for the veggie averse family! Into your mince you can add add onion, garlic, herbs & spices (i.e. basil, oregano, chives, parsley, rosemary, mint, curry plant, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper). Then the veggies – carrot, celery, mushroom, capsicum, sweet potato, zucchini…whatever you can grate or chop finely. Just watch the water content with wetter veggies (squeeze the liquid out of grated zucchini for example). If needed, add in something absorbent like quick oats, chia meal, quinoa flakes or coconut or chia flour (ask in your health store) to help bind the patties & soak up any excess moisture from the tonne of veggies added. You can also add in some seaweed flakes (i.e. dulse or kelp) to sneakily boost ocean minerals!
A quick & easy option for most families – yet there is a big nutritional difference between the average ‘pasta + meat + sauce’ spaghetti bol & a veggie-packed healthy version! To maximise your veg intake, start with onion, garlic & mushroom (all finely chopped). Fry these in olive oil & then add finely chopped celery, carrot, capsicum, zucchini, & even grated beetroot goes great. Add in some leafy greens (ie kale, spinach, silverbeet), a sprinkle of seaweed flakes, fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary all work well), & then mix all of this into your cooked mince, along with some tinned or fresh chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce (I use molasses as a mineral-rich sweetener / flavour booster & salt & pepper to taste). You can use traditional wheat pasta if tolerated, or gluten free / legume, or even some spiralled zucchini noodles. Top with a cheese if desired, & serve with some simple raw greens or a salad for extra bonus points!
Same veggies as the bolognaise. Chopped finely – this is just the bolognaise brew arranged with layers of sauce / cheese / pasta! You can use GF sheets or finely sliced pumpkin as the ‘pasta’ layers too. And if dairy free adjust the cheesy sauce.
All of the same bolognaise veggies will work here too, & you can incorporate some sneaky tinned asparagus into the sauce (blend it in), & throw in some frozen peas. I often use a mix of cauliflower or sweet potato in with the mashed potato topping, & you can throw some green / brown lentils into the mince part – or just use these instead of the meat. You can use things like salt & pepper, tomato paste, mustard, molasses & herbs / spices / natural sauces to make it flavoursome.
Great crowd-pleaser to introduce some legumes to the skeptics! Soak some black beans overnight, then rinse & drain them before boiling until soft. Or just use canned if you’re new to beans or not that good at planning! I use a combo of whole beans, & some canned refried beans for mexican nights. These can be added in after you’ve cooked up the rest of the mix, which can be your meat (if using) plus finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, broccoli / cauliflower, zucchini…whatever. You can use molasses as a sweetener, plus salt, pepper, cumin, coriander & a touch of turmeric (not too much or it gets bitter) to make it taste ‘Mexican’! Serve with guacamole (mashed avo with lemon / lime juice, salt, pepper & crushed garlic) & fresh coriander / shallots on top, & a big salad. (You may need to start out with corn chips, cheese & sour cream but don’t make these the main event / decrease over time).
Rice Paper Wraps
Onion & garlic, add in some ginger for the Asian flavour, or whatever Asian style paste / herbs you like – i.e. coriander, basil, mint, lime juice, tamari…just fry the mince with the garlic / ginger / spices / paste, add finely chopped veggies / herbs, & have some others raw & grated on the table for when you serve up. You can have several bowls for different people to choose their own ‘least hated vegetable’ additions, & some dipping sauce. Or instead of Asian style, try a rosemary & garlic lamb & veg mince with yoghurt, mint & cucumber dressing. You can find the wraps in the asian section of the supermarket, & you just need to dip them into hot water to make them soft enough to wrap (requires a little practice, small children will need help making theirs).
A great winter hot veggie snack. Sweet potato & potato, homemade & oven baked. You can coat in some tapioca starch & spices to get them really crispy / crunchy. Cook in macadamia, olive or coconut oil, & serve with yummy dips (see below!)
You can hide a lot of veggies (& probiotic yoghurt / healthy olive oil) in dips. Think of them like thick, savoury superfood smoothies! Cooked sweet potato & pumpkin, cucumber, herbs, avocado, semi dried tomato, beetroot, olives etc – & we think of dips as party or snack food, so tend not to be on the lookout for veggies! Google veggie dips or any of the above-mentioned veggies with dip & you’ll find recipes. Also – they are nice & smooth, & generally there are crackers to be had with them – so veggie dips can be a winner for veggie-shy people!
You can find some half-decent GF wraps in the supermarkets now. Bundle up a heap of healthy fillings with some kind of yummy dressing. Meat / cheese – whatever other fillings you / the kids like, to go with the veggies. Think avocado, hommous, tahini dressings etc.
Mushroom, tomato, onion, herbs like rosemary, parsley & thyme, baby spinach & shredded kale…just start of with a few teeny tiny bits & you can increase as they get used to the ‘bits’.
Same as omelettes – start with a few bits & increase as they get used to the new tastes & textures.
You can add some familiar veggies chunk style, & then some hidden, finely blended into the pie ‘sauce’. Top pies with mashed & seasoned veggies, serve with salad.
This can be a good one as most veggie-fussy types like mayonnaise / creamy dressings. You can make a basic coleslaw with just shredded cabbage & carrot, or add in shallots / raw onion, celery, kale, capsicum, grated beetroot, parsley etc. Kids usually like a little grated cheese in there too to help the veggies go down!
Use the fine holes on your grater, to grate a large raw beetroot with 2 medium carrots. ‘Dress’ with some fresh grated / juiced pineapple & / or orange, & add in some desiccated coconut & currants for sweetness if desired. Amazing sweet & juicy side salad that many kids & adults like, & a great way to introduce raw beetroot to those who’ve never tried it.
I like to add boiled eggs into potato salad to balance the carbs with some extra protein & fats. You can add finely chopped shallots / chives, raw onion, parsley, celery, frozen peas….potato salad is great for resistant starch (the carbs turn into this when cooked & cooled down). Resistant starch is good food for your gut bacteria.
You can use quinoa too (or a mixture) & use leftover meats or veggies in here. Think shredded fried eggs, free range bacon, or chicken leftovers, tofu cubes, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, shallots, carrot, corn, frozen peas, capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower (all chopped up into tiny bits). Great to use up leftover bits n pieces!
You can sneak cauliflower into your mashed potato, use butter & salt & pepper to flavour, & garlic, chives or parsley are also yum in mash. You can add cooked broccoli & carrots into sweet potato / pumpkin mash…mash makes textures less of an issue so you may have luck with some different veggies incorporated in this way.
Herbs are super-nutritious like veggies (often even more so) but can be expensive. It’s great to grow a few in the garden / pots. You can make amazing fresh pesto using basil & baby spinach, parmesan, olive oil, salt & pepper, lemon juice & garlic. This pesto can also be used to flavour other veggies. It goes great with roasted sweet potato chunks, or in a salad.
Spinach & Feta Pies
Kids love greens hidden in cheese! Most people love mini spinach & feta pies. Use a cupcake / muffin tray to bake a heap of these – great way to get some greens & protein in if dairy is well tolerated. Basil is awesome in these.
Platters / Finger Food
Olives, carrot, celery, capsicum, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, sugar snaps, beans….you can make great healthy platters using veggies. Just combine with things the family already like i.e. cheeses, nuts, crackers, dips etc. Finger food / platters are very kid-friendly & they’ll be able to experiment carefully with a little encouragement & some peer pressure from other more adventurous eaters!
Pineapple / banana / papaw / mango / kiwi / apple / pear etc can be the ‘sweetness’ to make a glass full of raw green veggies much yummier! Celery tops, cucumber, baby spinach, kale etc can all be blended up into drinks – many people find drinking their veggies is actually easier than eating them!
You can make an amazing, vibrant red smoothie using raspberries, watermelon, dragon fruit & beetroot. This is cool for kids because it is SOO bright red. Pink grapefruit & ginger are nice flavours in this too.
Berries are great at hiding seeds in smoothies! The fuss-pot will be expecting some texture from the seeds & skin of the berries, so throwing a few sneaky seeds in should be easy. Just start out slowly – hemp seeds are a great mild tasting seed with minimal texture, then you can work up to soaked Blend11 or 13.
Some people can’t handle the thick, fibrous texture of smoothies with veggies in them. Juice can be a great way to get used to the different veggie tastes, get loads of phytonutrients in to fussy folks, without them having to deal with textures at the same time! Try small amounts of spinach, kale, cucumber, carrot, beetroot, ginger, turmeric etc – using yummy & familiar things like apple, mandarin, pineapple & orange to sweeten / mask.
You can make quite a few cool cakes with veggies win them. The obvious one is carrot cake, but google chocolate beetroot or zucchini cake, black bean brownies…you can actually sneak veggies into cakes & sweet treats!
Biscuits, bars, balls & slices:
So many cool recipes now for raw vegan desserts / bars & slices. Try chickpea cookies, black bean brownies, cashew cheesecakes, protein balls…
SO MANY WAYS – you just gotta get sneaky! The family will get used / start eating a tonne of veggies without even knowing they are!
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