How to Sneak Healthier Foods Into Your Diet

08/13/2011 11:15 pm ET | Updated Oct 13, 2011
  • Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. Pediatrician, Child Obesity Specialist, and Author, Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right!

Let's be honest, most of us could use more vegetables in our diet.

In fact, studies show that a mere 27 percent of adults get the recommended three servings of vegetables per day. Kids get even less! A past study found that only 22 percent of children ages two to five met recommendations for vegetable intake, and in children ages six to 11, only 16 percent met recommendations for vegetable intake. In addition, a recent study found that between a third and half of all the fruits and vegetables served to youngsters at some school cafeterias last year, wound up in the trash. Similar situations are occurring at schools nationwide, as well.

What gives?!

Oftentimes, encouraging the addition of vegetables to one's diet results in a rolling of the eyes or a patronizing, "Yes, Mom," but what if there was an easy way to consume more veggies and lose weight, even if you didn't like the taste of veggies?

A study out of Pennsylvania State University incorporated puréed vegetables into participants' meals, effectively doubling their fiber intake, lowering the caloric content and adding nutrients without sacrificing taste! Researchers served 41 volunteers breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner on three occasions; each time they provided the same meals, but the main dishes contained different amounts of steamed and puréed carrots, squash or cauliflower. When given a dish that was 25 percent vegetables compared with one that had none, the participants consumed 360 fewer daily calories on average but reported no differences in hunger -- and fewer than half realized that the dishes had been altered. Consuming 360 calories per day less equals roughly a pound of weight lost in just 10 days without even dieting!

The cookbook author, Jessica Seinfeld, who has encouraged parents to sneak vegetables into foods like spaghetti, had popularized this strategy. However, it is important to keep in mind that when serving the foods to young children, you must continue offering whole vegetables on the side so children develop a taste for vegetables.

If you're striving to help your family live a healthier lifestyle, you've probably already made some reduced-calorie swaps, like low-fat in place of whole milk or veggie burgers for quarter-pounders, but there may still be some food substitutions that you haven't tried. I have also included some of my favorite strategies to cut calories but keep the taste, including easy ways to add puree vegetables
 to your diet:

At Restaurants:
If I order a salad at a restaurant and none of the dressings seem appealing, I will often ask for a little dish of salsa on the side. This non-traditional topping adds a lot of flavor and is usually less processed than industrial salad dressings.

At Home

Buy puréed vegetable baby food or frozen vegetable purees and add them to sauces, soups, casseroles and even lean ground-beef burgers!

When it comes to baking, the possibilities for cutting down on fat while retaining flavor abound. If a recipe calls for a half-cup of oil, try replacing the oil with canned pumpkin, applesauce or puréed prunes. Although it sounds a little odd, puréeing dried prunes and a little hot water in your food processor is an easy way to add sweetness and reduce calories in baked goods. 

Another favorite baked snack is the onion. Chop an onion into quarters without cutting all the way through in order to create the "blooming" effect. Drizzle on a little olive oil and season with a little salt to taste. Wrap in aluminum foil and roast away! When its done just separate the layers one by one and eat them like chips.

Olive oil is a healthy fat, but you can have too much of a good thing. It's easy to add two-plus tablespoons of oil while making a stir-fry -- and that can add up to 250 calories. Instead, try sautéeing your veggies in a little chicken or vegetable broth.