How do you get vegetables into your kids? One way is to hide them

Versatile sauce can be the base of family favourites such as lasagne, bolognese or pizza

It’s great to be in control of what your family consumes, especially the sugar content, by making your own sauce.

It’s great to be in control of what your family consumes, especially the sugar content, by making your own sauce.

 

When it comes to family cooking, especially for your crew after school, simplicity is best.

I’m always trying to come up with clever ways to sneak nutrients into my brood and this recipe ticks all the boxes. It’s packed to the brim with veggie goodness, and the crowning glory is if you have any fussy eaters they won’t be able to tell there are any vegetables in there at all!

This marinara sauce, with its vibrant red colour and sweet tomato taste, is a real winner, rivalling any ready-made brand on the supermarket shelf and providing a much healthier option.

The sugar content in jarred sauces has been a hot topic of conversation of late with ‘eat occasionally’ warnings making an appearance onto the labels of some well-known brands.

According to the WHO daily guidelines on sugar intake, children between 2 and 18 should not be eating any more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day.

But what about the sugars we can’t see being added? Sugar can be hidden in a lot of foods that we would assume to be healthy, such as tomato sauces. So it’s great to be in control of what your family consumes, especially the sugar content, by making your own.

This recipe has just a pinch of brown sugar to contrast the sharpness of the tomatoes which is, of course, optional. A little goes a long way! A balanced, healthy diet isn’t just good for our kid’s bodies, it’s essential for their growing brains as well, and studies have shown that vibrant coloured veggies such as peppers, squash, carrots and tomatoes help to keep the brain cells healthy.

What also makes this sauce so appetising is its versatility. It can be the base of so many family favourites such as lasagne, bolognese or pizza. It’s also a great accompaniment to white fish, meatballs, chicken, the list goes on . . ! Sometimes I simply throw in a little fresh basil and serve it as a soup with a hunk of fresh crusty bread.

And for those fussy eaters, try serving this sauce in a little bowl with some cooked pasta on the side for little fingers to dunk away in. Fun meals with a bit of a novelty factor are more appealing and tend to be eaten a lot quicker.

Big batches

Parents are getting busier, rushing from the school pick up to after-school activities, the GAA pitch to hip hop class and trying to cram homework and healthy, well-rounded meals somewhere in between.

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My hidden veggie marinara is a great sauce to cook up in big batches at the weekend. I usually pick the first Sunday of every month, arrange to have the kitchen to myself then blast my “best of the 90s” playlist and cook up a storm.

(This sauce will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge in an airtight container and up to 3 months in the freezer.)

Then you can just grab it as you need it. Much easier than stopping off in the supermarket and you know you always have a wholesome, homemade meal to hand. And at the end of a hectic day, that’s one less thing to worry about.

Hidden Veggie Marinara Sauce (Serves 4)

You will need a heavy based saucepan with a lid and a hand blender.

Ingredients:
2 red onions
2 celery stalks
3 garlic cloves
2 red peppers
1 carrot
3 beef tomatoes
½ butternut squash
1 small leek
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
200g passata
400mls chicken/veggie stock
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon brown sugar
20g Parmesan (optional)

Method:

Prepare your veggies; peel and dice the red onions, carrot and squash; peel and crush your garlic cloves; slice the celery, leek, red pepper and beef tomatoes.

Place your heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat with a glug of olive oil.

Start by sautéing the red onion and crushed garlic for 5 minutes until soft and the onion has slightly caramelised.

Pour in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and let it infuse for a minute.

Add in the rest of the prepared vegetables and mix well.

Sprinkle in the oregano and season with a little salt and pepper.

Give a good mix before pouring in the passata and stock.

Cover with a lid and turn the heat down low, leaving the sauce to simmer for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, check the squash with a knife to ensure that it’s soft and completely cooked through.

Add in a teaspoon of brown sugar and blend the sauce until smooth.

Finish by adding 20g of grated Parmesan; this is optional but adds a great depth of flavour.

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