the story of spaghetti and hidden veggies.

I have been a fan for awhile of sneaking in vegetables.  I’m not hardcore about it, but I figure there are a lot of places we can add vegetables to boost our intake of them– so why not do it?  For instance, there aren’t too many kids who will eat peppers plain, or even in a mixed veggies dish, but if they’re mixed in with their baked spaghetti, maybe they will.

We all know we need vegetables, but here’ s a little recap of why they’re so good:

1.  Fiber!  A dietitian mentor of mine often uses the phrase “FIBER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND”.  Fiber does so much good.  I think more than we even know.  Fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.  That is seriously awesome.  Bring on the fiber!

2.  Lots of good nutrients.  Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants– vegetables are rich in these.

3.  Low in calories and fat.  Vegetables are always a good choice.  We get way more bang for our buck with vegetables.  For example, one cup of macaroni and cheese has around 335 calories.  1 cup of carrots has 50 calories, no fat.  I don’t know about you, but I can down a cup of mac and cheese in about 1 minute.  It takes me awhile to eat a cup of fresh carrots.  And if you add 2 tablespoons of Ranch dressing for dipping those carrots, that only adds 48 calories [if you use reduced-fat dressing].  So for under 100 calories you can have a healthy snack or side dish thanks to vegetables.

Enter baked spaghetti.  This is a perfect place to sneak in some veggies.  I hadn’t planned for this, so I had to look around my kitchen to see what I had.  I came up with some tomatoes and a pepper.

One of the great things about a CSA is having lots of vegetables on hand to throw into dishes.  One of the bad things is having lots of vegetables on hand to stare at you in the face when you don’t throw them into dishes and they start rotting on your kitchen island and stinking up your house.  But I wouldn’t know about that.

I cooked my noodles and cooked my meat.  I went to the grocery store yesterday, and they had ground chicken on sale for 99 cents because the expiration date was in two days.  So I snagged that up because I knew I would be using it that very evening.  99 cents!  I usually try to use ground turkey or ground chicken in spaghetti.  Occasionally I use ground beef, but always try to make sure it’s 93/7 on the fat.  The 80/20 is cheaper, but it’s no good for the heart, or gut, or rest of the body for that matter.

I sprayed a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray and poured the noodles in.  Then I added the chopped veggies on top of the noodles.

I only added veggies on half because I was nervous about how it would turn out.  No need to be nervous, friends.  It was delicious!  No I’m going to be really disappointed when we get to the “plain” half with our leftovers.

I poured the sauce over top.  I used a jar and a half because I don’t like my baked spaghetti to come out dry.  And then I added cheese.  Mozzarella would be perfect, but I didn’t have any, so I went with a cheddar jack mix.  I’m big on using what I have on hand.

I love this because kids would never know by looking at this that it’s full of vegetables.  Not that I’m totally into tricking kids.  I think it’s so important to talk with them and involve them in their food so that they want to eat vegetables and feel included in the meal process.  However, if you have really picky kids, this works.  If they are into helping, this is a good dish to ask them what vegetables they would like to add to the spaghetti.  Pretty much any vegetable works, so let them be creative.  They’re way more likely to eat it if they chose the vegetables that went into it.

I was ready to bake it.  I put it in the oven, and as I was closing the oven door I looked up and saw the skillet with the cooked ground chicken.  Fail.  I pulled the spaghetti dish back out, added the chicken, another layer of sauce, and some parmesan cheese on top.

I baked it at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until everything was warm and the cheese was gooey.

I always love tomatoes in anything, but the bell pepper in there was fantastic!  I will definitely add more bell pepper next time.  And I served this up with some texas toast– you know, to make up for all the extra vegetables we were getting.  Oh, texas toast, you are so hard to resist.

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