For many years I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables and to make sure the rest of my family does too. I’ve hidden vegetables in meat loaf, in soup, in casseroles. I’ve served raw veggies in snack trays, served cooked veggies with meals. My kids no longer balk at vegetables, but they sometimes look at me with a celery stick hanging half out of their mouths and ask “Mom. Um… What’s with all the veggies?”
I tell them it’s to help them grow up big and strong. They are both young adults now and pretty much done growing. So they smile indulgently and shake their heads.
With years in the trenches, I have found that spaghetti sauce is a reliable way to hide vegetables or at least make them more attractive to reluctant, persnickety eaters.
It can be as simple as adding a handful of frozen veggies to canned spaghetti sauce that you’re heating up on the stove, or it can be more involved. Shredded carrots are the most kid-friendly. They’re sweet and when shredded, carrots tend to disappear into the sauce. I’ve also used canned carrots that I mashed with a fork, to make them smaller and harder to recognize. Canned, chopped tomatoes are an easy addition too. They disappear into the spaghetti sauce, and add a little more nutrition. If your kids are more experimental then chopped fresh or frozen greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens can be added to your sauce. My kids like spinach okay, but with kale, they think the woody stems are weird. If I only have kale or collard green then I remove the stems and only add the leaves to the sauce. If you have lettuce or salad that needs to be used up before it turns, you can add it to spaghetti sauce.
A few years ago I tried adding chopped frozen broccoli and everyone liked that pretty well, plus it’s easy since the broccoli is already prepared. Mushrooms, onions and peppers are traditional additions.
As for meat, sometimes I add it and sometimes I don’t. My favorite is turkey breakfast sausage. I fry up a pound of it and then add the veggies and canned sauce. No one complains about “Ground turkey again!” when it’s turkey sausage. Even when I use regular ground turkey, they don’t complain too much. If I’m out of meat I will sometimes add crumbled tofu or tempeh. Also chickpeas are good in spaghetti sauce. I’ve tried over and over again to add plain cooked lentils, but my crew does not think that spaghetti sauce with lentils is a good thing. Soup with lentils is fine. Lentils and Rice is especially popular. But spaghetti with lentils, is not my family’s favorite.
Here is my recipe for extra chunky vegetable spaghetti sauce. I’ve written out the recipe for my favorite–turkey sausage, but you can use any type of meat you like, or omit it completely. Alternately you can add a pound of crumbled tofu or a well drained can of chickpeas instead.
Chunky Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce
- 16 ounces lean ground turkey sausage
- 1 cup frozen chopped broccoli or fresh chopped zucchini
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 green pepper, or 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or ground red peppers
- 15 ounces low sodium tomatoes, canned
- 24 ounces canned spaghetti sauce (I use Hunt’s Garlic & Herb)
- 1/2 cup water for rinsing the cans of all of their goodness
First chop and measure all your vegetables and open up your tomato cans.
Next get out a large pot. Open the turkey sausage and plot it into the pot. Fry it over medium-high heat until it is crumbled into small pieces. It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through yet, but broken up into small bits so it will be able to travel through the sauce more athletically. You don’t want large chunks. That’s the role of the vegetables this time around.
When the sausage is broken into small bits add the broccoli or zucchini, onion, carrot and green pepper or celery. Cook and stir until the vegetables are wilted and the turkey sausage is thoroughly cooked. This should only take 7 to 10 more minutes.
Next add the red pepper flakes (if you’re using them) and the tomato products. Swirl a little water around the bottom of each can to get out all of the goodness. You should only use about 1/2-cup or so. Pour this water into the pot and stir it all up. It will be thick, and pretty and fragrant.
Now, allow the sauce to simmer for at least 15 to 20 minutes and longer is fine too. I let it simmer for an hour when I have the time, and that doesn’t hurt it a bit. This dish is really popular with my crew and it gives them lots of veggies in every serving.
Makes about 8-cups, or 8-servings, 1-cup each.
Per Serving: 138 Calories; 4g Fat (26.4% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 568mg Sodium.
Calories by Percentage: 26% Fat; 36% Carbohydrate; 48% Protein.
Exchanges: 1-1/2 Lean Meat; 2-1/2 Vegetable.