Hidden Benefits

Can you actually eat more, eat healthier and still lose weight? Does it sound too good to be true?

It’s not a “miracle” diet or a weight-loss pill.

It’s a matter of eating more vegetables and fruits. I often suggest starting a meal with a vegetable salad or soup. Research shows that this simple step curbs your appetite, so you end up eating fewer calories over all.

Earlier this year, a small but intriguing study found another way that vegetables can be used to reduce your total caloric intake.

Researchers added vegetable purees to main course casseroles and desserts. The purees added additional bulk to the food, while reducing the total amount of calories per serving.

Participants who ate the “manipulated” food ate 200 to 350 fewer calories per meal than those who ate the same food minus the vegetable puree. Their daily vegetable consumption also increased significantly. None of the research subjects were told about the added vegetables. They didn’t notice a significant difference in taste or satiation when they were finished eating.

Should you cut calories by adding pureed zucchini and cauliflower to your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe? It’s not a bad idea. It may even help get finicky youngsters (and adults!) to eat vegetables that they might otherwise spurn. (On the other hand, you’ll want to introduce whole “real” vegetables to your children so they’ll develop a liking for them at an early age.)

I suggest serving as many whole vegetables as possible, and adding vegetable purees when you think it might be helpful to your family’s diet. If you’re trying to lose weight, adding purees to casseroles, soups and desserts is certainly a good strategy.

It’s easiest to add vegetable purees that will either appear “hidden” or will enhance your favorite foods. Spicy dishes like chili and hearty pasta casseroles take well to added vegetable purees. Tomato puree adds a rosy touch to macaroni and cheese (see my recipe), while cauliflower puree blends in with the color of the cheese sauce. Pureed squash, pumpkin, applesauce, bananas, carrots, zucchini and pineapple all work well in baked goods, especially cakes, quick breads and muffins using cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other hearty spices.

Here’s a delicious cupcake recipe chock full of vegetables and fruit:

Carrot Cupcakes (Parve)

1 can (8 oz/227 gm) juice-packed crushed pineapple*
1 cup grated carrots
½ cup pitted prunes
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 whole egg
1 egg white
½ cup sugar
¼ cup canola or light olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325F/165C. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Drain the pineapple in a strainer and reserve ¼ cup of the juice. Heat this reserved juice until it’s hot.

Using a food processor, grate the carrots and measure 1 cup. Remove them from the processor and set aside. Put the prunes and the hot pineapple juice in the processor and process until smooth.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a small bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the egg, egg white, sugar and oil. Whisk in the prune puree. Add the dry ingredients and then the pineapple and carrots.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 20-30 minutes, until they spring back when lightly pressed. Let them sit in the pan for a few minutes, then cool completely on a cooling rack.

Makes 12

* I’ve never found crushed pineapple in Israel. (Even though Dole brand is sold here, they seem to just bring over slices and tidbits.) I use whatever is available, drain it and puree it in the food processor after I’ve grated the carrots.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

Purim – Mishloach Manot Ideas

I don’t go all out with mishloach manot (Purim food gifts). Maybe it’s because I packed thousands of them during 12 years of running a kosher gift business. I just remember the shipping boxes stacked up along walls and under the tables. By time I got to the synagogue to hear the Megillah reading, I was barely awake.
In our neighborhood, people have pared way back on Purim gifts. Cards to one’s favorite charity are more common, especially when extra calories are not always appreciated (at least by us older folks!)
But one must still satisfy the mitzvah of giving edible Purim gifts to at least two people. And children do enjoy the thrill of getting goodie packages.

This year I found decorative but inexpensive 5-inch (13 cm) square metal containers at a local cosmetics/jewelry shop. Earlier in the month I made half a batch of lemon poppy seed cake, baked it in cupcake tins and froze them. I’ll stuff dates with marzipan – both in the refrigerator and needing to be gone before Pesach. We’ll buy a bag of juicy tangerines to include in our gifts.

As a finishing touch, I’ll add a few chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks that my granddaughter Karen just made with me. It’s an easy, fun (and messy!) project that your children or grandchildren will enjoy doing with you.
Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Sticks

Pretzel sticks – I found whole-wheat pretzels made with liquid vegetable oil and covered with sesame seeds.
Chocolate – We used a bar of parve bittersweet chocolate. You can use chocolate chips too.
Canola oil
Candy sprinkles – Optional; Karen decided not to dip all of the sticks in sprinkles.
Washcloth for wiping chocolate from hands, face and clothing.
Break up the chocolate in a pyrex measuring cup (this just makes it easier for children to hold the container). Add a teaspoon or so of canola oil. Microwave it on low power, stirring occasionally, until it’s melted.
Lay out wax, parchment or sandwich paper on cookie sheets (for the finished sticks). Lay another piece on the counter or table and pour some of the sprinkles on it.
Dip half of each pretzel stick into the chocolate (a spoon helps spread and catch the drips). Roll the chocolate in the sprinkles and place on the paper-lined cookie sheet. Either set the finished sticks aside to harden, or refrigerate them for a short time. Store them in an air-tight container at room temperature.
Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

Macaroni and Cheese

When our granddaughter comes over after gan (preschool), this is her favorite lunch. Even with salad (which, like most Israelis, she’s eaten since she was little) I can’t seem to make enough to satisfy her appetite.

What’s the big deal?

It’s a good way to introduce healthy whole wheat pasta.
Tomato sauce adds flavor, so you can use less (high fat) cheese.
The attractive rosy tint hides the fact that the pasta is brown.
Homemade is better than the highly processed, over-salted boxed variety.
You can make it all in one pan, so it’s quick and easy.

Otherwise, it’s really just homemade macaroni and cheese: Start with whole grain pasta. Make a white sauce. Add a little cheese and some pasta sauce. The quantities are up to you. Here’s the “recipe”:

Start by boiling whole wheat pasta (children especially enjoy shapes like bowties and corkscrews). When it’s cooked “al dente” (with a little bite to it – not mushy), drain it and rinse in a colander. Let the excess hot water in the pan evaporate for a minute or two.

Heat a spoonful of canola or olive oil in the same pan. Mix in a tablespoon or so of flour and mix together, stirring frequently, to make a paste. Cook for a minute or two, stirring all the time. (A whisk is good for this.) Gradually pour in about a cup of low fat milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring the sauce to a boil and let it simmer for a minute or two on low heat, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in a handful of grated cheese (I like cheddar). Stir it into the sauce until it melts. Now add pasta or tomato sauce (homemade or purchased – I like the kind with chunky pieces of vegetables in it) until it turns a lovely rosy pink color. Add the drained pasta into the sauce. That’s it! Serve now or refrigerate and microwave it later.

What do we do after lunch? This week we painted each other’s nail’s. For a savta (grandmother) who raised three boys and no girls, I was in heaven!
Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

Back-to-School Ideas

Do you get into a rut when it comes to packing school lunch boxes? I remember those days. One son insisted on peanut butter and jelly for months at a time. Another wanted only strawberry jelly. The third refused anything resembling jelly. Sneaking in whole-wheat bread was another challenge.

Here are some creative ideas that add nutritional “punch” to sandwiches.


Mild in flavor, smooth and creamy, avocado is a winner in sandwiches. It’s high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and nutrients like vitamin E, potassium, folate and healthy plant sterols. Slice it or mash it with a drop of lemon juice. Use avocado instead of mayonnaise on cheese, tuna, chicken and turkey sandwiches.

Nut and Seed Butters

Peanut butter is a staple for most of us. But how about trying other kinds of “butters”? Almond butter is a delicious source of calcium and magnesium. Look for hazelnut, soy nut and sesame butters. There are a variety of techina (sesame) spreads, including my favorite, made with ground sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and honey. Try nut butters with bananas, apples or pears for a tasty sandwich.

Dried Fruit

When fresh fruit is not in season, try dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, plums (the new word for prunes), cherries, figs, dates and apricots. Dried fruit is nutrient and calorie dense, so just ¼ cup equals a full serving of fruit. Dried cranberries are great in tuna and chicken salad sandwiches. Raisins and cut up apricots are tasty with nut butters. Fill a small bag with whole or cut up dried fruit for a nutritious snack.


Made from chickpeas and techina (ground sesame seeds), hummus is popular as a dip, spread and salad. Why not use it in sandwiches? Both chickpeas and techina are high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Spread hummus on whole-grain bread, pita or a bagel and add tomato and cucumber slices for a tasty sandwich. Before you buy hummus, check the label. Some brands have lots of added vegetable oil and very little techina.

Roasted Peppers

You can buy them in a jar or make them yourself: Cut around the stalk of the pepper and lift it out with the seeds. (Shake out the rest of the seeds.) Roast them in a 450 F (230 C) oven until the skin is charred all over. While they’re still hot, put the peppers into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Peel them when they’re cool enough to handle. Roasted red pepper strips added to a tuna or cheese sandwich are not only delicious. They also give you a boost of vitamins C and A.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

Buy the Book

Sign up for Emails

Enter your email address: