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a post by

Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

Most parents will agree that it can be a nightmare to get vegetables into your kids.  As a personal trainer and foodie I always like to increase the nutritional value of what I am cooking.  Vegetables are full of flavor, low calorie, essential for losing weight and packed with vital nutrients.  Any nutrition expert will tell you to swap out vegetables for carbs when trying to lose weight, but what if the family won’t go along with your plan?  This is when "OPERATION: HIDDEN VEGETABLE" starts and man is it satisfying when your family gobbles down the meal and are none the wiser!!!

Add Flavor Not Calories

One of the best ways to keep the calories low without sacrificing the flavor is to add herbs and spices.  Fat does provide a lot of flavor but can send the calorie count through the roof.  Fresh herbs are one of my favorite ways to boost the flavor profile of any recipe.  I especially love adding fresh mint, cilantro, basil or oregano to salads.  The herbs help me limit the dressing since their flavor makes the salad so delicious.

I also enjoy using my crockpot for creating flavorful recipes such as chilis, curries or sauces.  The crockpot truly enhances the flavors of any meal because the spices simmer all day without the need to add extra fat.  Vegetables can also add great flavor to recipes, and my favorite thing to do is jazz up boring store bought sauces.  I take your off the shelf jarred tomato sauce, add a large can or two of plain tomato sauce and throw as many diced up vegetables as I can into the mix.  I sauté garlic, peppers, onions, and carrots until soft, and I add extra herbs and spices as well.  Not only does this save me money since jarred sauces can be very expensive, but I can control the sugar, fat, salt, and calories by “making” my own.

Another of my famous ways to sneak vegetables into a meal is to do the old standby, cover it in CHEESE!  I am always putting extra veggies into my casseroles, pasta dishes and lasagna. These are the best for hiding the extra veggies.  I have even add pureed broccoli into stuffed shells and manicotti, which decreases the amount of cheese filling and cuts down the calories.  My usual ratio for a casserole or baked pasta dish is 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein, 1/4 pasta.  Throw some cheese on top and watch them devour those veggies.

Like most college kids, I bought the prepackaged rice and pasta mixes not knowing how unhealthy they were.  I developed this recipe to resemble those packaged mixes with a little less guilt and A LOT less sodium.  I haven’t included a calorie count because this recipe can be modified in many different ways based on your individual taste.  Use any of the quick cooking white or brown rices and vegetable of your choice.  Make sure the veggies are finely diced so they cook quickly and are less noticeable to picky eaters. I throw everything into the food processor and blend until it looks “hideable.”

Creamy Vegetable Rice

1 cup of white rice (I love jasmine or basmati)
1-3 cups FINELY chopped veggies (i like broccoli, celery, onion, and carrot)
1 Tbsp  olive oil
½ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
½ - 1 cup of skim milk
¼ cup parmesan cheese

In a medium sauce pan add olive oil, finely diced veggies and salt and pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until soft but not browned.  Add enough water for cooking rice according to package directions plus an extra ½ cup.  Bring veggies and water to a boil and add rice.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until rice is done.  Once done, add enough milk to make a creamy mixture.  I may look soupy initially, but continually stir to bring out the thickening power of the rice.  Stir for about 1 minute and add more milk if needed.  Add parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Enjoy!

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