Sneaking in Nutrition

Preparing foods that are both nutritious and delicious is always a challenge. If, like most families, you have a picky eater or two, there are a few tricks you can use to boost the nutritional value of the foods your family loves. One such trick is to "sneak" or "hide" nutrition in food to give it a healthy makeover.

Think about the foods your family already enjoys. Even foods that may not seem very nutritious at first can actually be quite healthy with a few minor recipe alterations. Often, the healthier alternatives involve adding non-traditional ingredients that boost the nutritional value of the dish without significantly altering the dish's taste or texture. For example, a traditional meatloaf recipe may include the following ingredients: ground beef, onion, bread crumbs, egg, ketchup, spices. The healthy version will not only use lean meat or substitute ground turkey, but might also suggest using oatmeal instead of bread crumbs. Even if not called for in the recipe, you can also mix in shredded carrots, peppers, or other vegetables or even a chopped apple to add fiber and increase the nutritional value.

Pizza and pasta dishes are great foods for hiding nutrition. Make your own sauce or boost the nutritional value of bottled sauces by adding steamed and pureed vegetables such as carrots and spinach. When making a pizza at home, use fresh vegetables as toppings and vegetarian "meats." Pepperoni, sausage and ground beef each have readily available counterparts made from texturized vegetable protein (TVP). Meat substitutes also work great in tacos and sloppy joes.

For mashed potatoes, you can steam some cauliflower and mash it in with the potatoes. Mix in some Parmesan or top with gravy, and the cauliflower will be very difficult to detect.

Tofu has little flavor of its own and is a great way to add low-fat protein to many dishes. Silken tofu can be mixed in with scrambled eggs. Firm tofu can be mashed and mixed with ricotta for lasagna or desserts.

Breakfast breads like pancakes, waffles and muffins are prime targets for nutritional boosts. Decrease the flour by about half a cup and substitute the same amount of oatmeal. Replace the oil in the recipe for the same amount of applesauce or mashed ripe banana to keep the food moist while decreasing fat and adding flavor.

When serving party snacks, swap sour cream-based dips with salsa and hummus. Replace ordinary potato chips with vegetable chips, or try chips that contain nutritional "extras" such as flax seeds.

If your children like to drink fruit juice, you can slip in a small amount of vegetable juice into the beverage. Use the low-sodium variety and add just a spoonful at first. This works particularly well with grape juice and fruit punches as these have strong flavors that help mask the vegetable flavor. You can also introduce your children to fruit and yogurt smoothies as nutritious substitutes for milkshakes.

If you have an ice cream maker, you can make healthy desserts by including fruits, berries and nuts and top it off with granola.

Most importantly, set a good example by being open-minded. Search cookbooks and the Web for recipes that have an interesting nutritional twist, such as tomato soup cake, and try them. Enter the word "healthy," the name of the food and "recipe" into a search engine and chances are, someone has already crafted a delicious and healthier alternative and saved you the guesswork from trying to figure it out yourself. Soon, you may find your family members are not only eating their vegetables, but they're also asking for second helpings!