When the U.S. Department of Agriculture released "My Plate" as the updated version of the food pyramid dietary recommendations, more than a quarter of the food plate was composed of vegetables. Health advocates have long advised families to include more vegetables in their diets -- particularly in kids' diets -- and most families found themselves wanting to get creative with new, veggie-based recipes.
One of the top strategies for adding extra servings of vegetables to your diet is topping your usual pasta, chicken, seafood and beef dishes with tasty gourmet sauces that comprise healthy veggies and beans. And it's quite easy to do so, given the many forms of veggies allowed by "My Plate." In your daily count of veggie servings, you may have raw, cooked, mashed, frozen, canned and dried veggies, as well as 100 percent vegetable juice -- all of which become the ingredients for delicious, unique sauces.
Sauces do more than just bring a greater amount of vegetable servings to your table. They give a new spin to your tried-and-true potatoes -- for example, a potato and leek sauce to replace your french fries or baked potato with cheddar and sour cream. Kids might take to the creamy texture of a garlicky broccoli sauce more than they might the crunchy texture and taste of raw broccoli. Cauliflower becomes a healthier version of Alfredo sauce, and the lycopene of tomatoes gives you greater heart health when mixed with the folic acid of spinach and the fiber of mashed cannellini beans. "I love it that canned beans count," says homemaker Sarah Daniels. "When I mash up the beans, it gives a thick base to my sauce, which my kids say reminds them of pudding. They eat it so well!"
Different vegetables provide different combinations of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals for a range of heart-healthy effects and cancer-preventing benefits, so your new sauce recipes may introduce a new world of organic, perhaps garden-grown, vegetables to your family. Here are the vegetable classes listed by the USDA:
--Dark green vegetables: bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, dark green leafy lettuce, kale, mesclun, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens and watercress.
--Red and orange vegetables: acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots, Hubbard squash, pumpkins, red peppers and sweet potatoes.
--Beans and peas: black beans, black-eyed peas (mature, dry), garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, soybeans, split peas and white beans.
--Starchy vegetables: cassavas; corn; fresh cowpeas, field peas or black-eyed peas (not dry); green peas; green lima beans; potatoes; taros; and water chestnuts.
--Other vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, avocados, bean sprouts, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, green peppers, iceberg (head) lettuce, okra, onions, parsnips, turnips and zucchini.
Multi-vegetable sauces allow you to get creative in the kitchen, perhaps inviting your children to pick the three veggies of tonight's sauce and to help whir them in the blender. From a family budget standpoint, vegetable sauces allow you to serve inexpensive pastas and chicken in new ways, and you can add even more vegetable goodness to your dinner by serving a spinach-stuffed ravioli to be topped with your veggie sauce.
Famous chefs have mastered the art of vegetable sauces, and you'll find such recipes as Emeril Lagasse's puttanesca sauce -- featuring Roma tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, basil, oil and garlic -- and Curtis Aikens' roasted tomatillo, pepper and onion sauce on FoodNetwork.com.
In addition to the family meal, you can incorporate vegetable sauces into your holiday dinners and family celebrations. On Allrecipes.com, you'll find such recipes as fried tomato mushroom and onion ragout, roasted red pepper cream sauce, pesto with arugula, saffron red pepper sauce and more exotic recipes, such as ponzu sauce made from soy, lime, orange juice, serrano chili, coriander and ginger. And of course, jarred marinara or vodka sauce can be "dressed up" with your home-cooked or blended vegetables.
Pretty soon, you won't want a plain, boring tomato sauce. You'll want the texture of vegetables to catapult your dish into a new healthy level that pleases with every bite.