Posted In Lunch / Dinner, Our kids love, Recipe

Hidden vegetable tomato sauce

4th May 2016

Our love of lycopene. The perfect passata-based pasta sauce recipe with lots of hidden vegetables. Nutrition, children, caveats and provisos!

Our love of lycopene. The perfect passata-based pasta sauce recipe with lots of hidden vegetables. Nutrition, children, caveats and provisos!

Well, if there’s one thing that every single nutritionist in the whole world ever could agree on, it might be this: vegetables are a great thing! The more (in terms of quantity, quality and variety) that we can include in our diets, the better. I am very fond of lycopene, a phytochemical pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour. Lycopene is thought to have some role in preventing cardiovascular disease and to a lesser extent, protecting against prostate cancer. Studies have also shown that it helps protect skin against damage caused by UV exposure.

Our bodies absorb this antioxidant more easily when it is consumed alongside fat and also when tomatoes are cooked. Since all jars and packaged tomatoes are heated during the canning process, this is one area where arguably the packaged product is better for you than the fresh, at least in terms of this anti-oxidant. I always have canned chopped tomatoes and passata in the house. This recipe is based on passata, but hides a whole load more vegetables (and therefore a whole variety of nutrients) in it also. I prepare this in huge batches and keep it in the freezer in portion sizes. It is great alongside meat or meatballs as well as a pasta sauce. Adults love it too, just up the seasoning and sprinkle a few herbs on top.

Caveat re kids and all hidden veggie sauces: these should be given in addition to and not in replacement of fresh steamed veggies and crudités. Children need to get used to eating vegetables in their whole form as otherwise they don’t know what these are. Hidden veggie sauces are obviously especially popular for parents whose children are on the fussy end of the eating spectrum but may in fact perpetuate the problem. Our advice here would be:

1. The more exposure to a variety of fresh whole vegetables that kids have, the better. Let them touch, feel, smell, chop and cook them. Visit farms. Keep a vegetable patch.

2. Don’t give up. Not liking carrots today doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying again next week and so forth. Introduce new ones alongside old favourites like broccoli every so often.

3. Behaviour modelling is one of the most powerful and proven theories of parenting, and absolutely applies in this context. Let them see you enjoying a variety of vegetables. Eat with them whenever you can.

(Recipe credit: This recipe is initially based on the Annabel Karmel recipe of the same name – I have added several nutritional marginal gains over the years. Annabel has been such an influence on my family cooking – if you don’t know her website or her books, they are such a great resource, especially for the baby/toddler stage).


  • 1 tbs coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • ½ courgette, grated
  • 10 button mushrooms
  • 5 broccoli florets, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup sweetcorn
  • 600g tomato passata
  • 1 handful of herbs (I usually use basil and parsley)
  • salt and pepper, to taste (none/minimal if for kids)


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan over a low heat (I use a wok type pan). Add the garlic and onion and fry until it starts to soften.
  2. Add the carrots, courgette, mushrooms, broccoli and corn and fry for around 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so.
  3. Stir in the passata and the herbs, season and allow to cook over low heat for at least 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.
  4. Take off the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
Hidden vegetable tomato sauce

Photo credits: grey bowl is part of the Halo range by Denby