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Hidden Ingredients For Healthier Meals

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Remember being told to “eat your vegetables”? If you weren’t too fond of vegetables… well, you know what happened next. The battle of the veggies still goes on in homes across the country, but a new study may offer parents a fresh strategy.

You make think that pureed foods are only for the very old and the very young.  If that’s the case, you might miss a golden opportunity to add vegetables to your family’s diet. Pureed vegetables added to sauces, breads and casseroles are getting rave reviews from researchers that looked at ways to lower calories and increase vegetable consumption in children’s diets. During the study, when pureed veggies were added to the children’s main dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner- they didn’t seem to notice.

“We think of it as not deception, but recipe improvement,” said Barbara Rolls, one of the study’s authors from Pennsylvania State University in University Park. ”In this group of kids, we got most of them meeting their daily vegetable requirements — that’s pretty amazing,”

Here’s how the study worked. It  was conducted in day-care centers where kids received pre-made and measured meals. Something that parents can easily do at home with a blender. Researchers fed prepared meals to 40 kids, age 3 to 5, one day a week for three weeks. The meals looked the same each day — zucchini bread at breakfast, pasta with tomato sauce at lunch, and a chicken noodle casserole at dinner and for a night snack.

One day’s worth of meals was prepared normally, with a typical veggie content in each entree. On the other two days, researchers added pureed cauliflower, broccoli, squash, zucchini and tomatoes to triple or quadruple every dish’s dose of vegetables. After each meal, researchers weighed the food to determine how much kids ate. The preschoolers were also allowed to eat non-doctored side dishes and snacks during the day, including fruit, cheese, and crackers.

Compared to the day when they ate standard meals, tots almost doubled their total veggie intake on the day when they ate high-veggie dishes. And more hidden vegetables in the main dish didn’t mean they ate any less fruit or vegetable side dishes. Kids seem to like the meals with the hidden vegetables as well as their regular meals. They also consumed about 140 fewer calories eating the veggie – packed meals. That’s something worth considering in this age of obesity.

Not all pureed vegetables work well in every recipe. There’s going to be a trial and error phase. Parents and caregivers can find lots of recipes and tips for adding hidden veggies by doing a website search for “pureed veggies for kids.”

As helpful as it was to hide the veggies in the children’s meals, Rolls also emphasized the importance of presenting children with fresh or cooked vegetables to eat. ”I would urge parents to try to get vegetables into their kids’ meals wherever they can,” Rolls said. “This is an additional strategy that you put on top of exposing kids to real vegetables, eating the vegetables with the kids, and being persistent in exposing them to vegetables.”

Vegetable gardening is a great way to introduce your children to vegetables and save money at the grocery store.

By the way, Rolls also noted that it’s not only children who need to add more vegetables to their diets… “Almost nobody is eating enough vegetables” she says.

So grab the blender and the veggies and get creative in the kitchen. Pureed veggies can add new flavors and better nutrition to everyone’s diet.

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