Why Aussie Mums and Dads are Becoming Blenditarians
I’ve been a dietitian for over 20 years and have additional qualifications in paediatrics. In my career I have worked at several large international schools to help develop menu’s that are not only tasty for the students to eat, but are also nutritious – to sustain their activity levels throughout the day, and to support their extra growth and development needs.
I am also a mother of 3, and I know too well that putting healthier, nutrient rich meals into their tummies can sometimes feel like an uphill battle.
It is important to remember that children are not mini adults when it comes to nutrition, and there are valid reasons why your child might refuse food. Parents know that serving foods with a variety of fruits and veggies is great for their nutritional needs, but this also means the child is eating a wide range of foods textures, tastes and meal presentations. Many younger children find eating certian foods difficult because of how it looks or tastes, and while they are often labelled as difficult or fussy eaters, food refusal is often more of an aversion to an initial experience – such as eating a cold and hard to chew piece of broccoli. If they don’t like a food the first time, chances are they will be reluctant to try it again.
If you want to save your sanity and increase their nutrient intake, it can be better to offer healthier or tweaked versions of their favourite eat meals which are easier to eat, such as spaghetti bolognaise, cottage pie or a mini burger.
That’s why I like to recommend a blend of mushrooms and mince.
By simply dicing whole fresh mushrooms and adding them to recipes your child already knows and loves to eat, you will transform their favourite dinners into a super nutrition charged meal, that is lower in (the unhealthier types of) fat and salt– and your kids will actually eat it, because it looks and tastes like it usually does.
This ‘stealth health’ approach to feeding children isn’t a new concept, as parents have been hiding veggies in food for many years, but there are some other specific reasons why mushrooms with mince makes the perfect blend.
Why a blend of mushrooms + mince works better than other veggies:
Mushrooms boost the meaty flavour:
Children have twice as many taste buds as adults, which means certain foods can taste different to them than it does to us. Broccoli for example, contains a glucosinolate compound that can make it taste bitter, which means for some kids, it doesn’t matter how you mix it or blend it in with meals, they will detect that bitter broccoli at fifty paces. Mushrooms however have a natural umami flavour (which is the Japanese word for “deliciousness”). Umami is the fifth taste, after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter – and is detected by the middle of our tongue. Foods like soy sauce, parmesan cheese and of course meat also have this deep, rich, and earthy umami flavour. This explains why, when mushrooms and meat are mixed together in a 50:50 ratio, you can’t taste the mushrooms; their double umami flavour just makes meals taste ‘meatier.’ No other vegetable has this meaty umami flavour, which is why a mushroom and mince blend in meals is a much more palatable flavour for young kids.
You can’t see mushrooms when they are blended with mince:
Most parents of a ‘fussy eater’ would tell you, that if they dished up a food their child doesn’t know, or if they can see a vegetable in the meal – they won’t eat it. It is hard to hide green, yellow, or red bits in any food. Whereas mushrooms, if finely diced (or shredded with a cheese grater or pulsed in a blender) form little white bits which can be easily stained by the sauce in a bolognese, giving the mushrooms a great camouflage. This is why mushrooms are far less likely to be spotted in their spaghetti sauce than green broccoli.
My top tip is to use a few firm, white button mushrooms for the blend, rather than a large flat portobello. A portobello mushroom with its dark cap and gills can be spotted in meals, while finely diced little white mushroom bits will get stained by the sauce and are far less likely to be detected by your little one’s eagle eye for veggies!
Mushrooms have a similar mouthfeel to mince:
One of the biggest objections children have to new foods is mouthfeel. If it feels slippery and strange, they are less likely to eat it. White button mushrooms, when finely diced, resemble the mouth feel of mince. They aren’t crunchy or chewy and soften quickly in the cooking process, so you don’t need to stew for hours or blend meals into soups for your kids to eat it.
My top tip to avoid mushroom detection is to use button or cup mushrooms, rather than their more mature versions of big flat BBQ mushrooms or portobellos. Smaller white button mushrooms have less water and a harder texture, which resembles meat. So if you dice them up nice and fine before you add them to minced dishes, they won’t even know they are there.
So, give it a go! Start with blending mushrooms and mince in your next family spaghetti Bolognese – it’s a great way to boost the nutritional value of our family meal, while reducing the amount of meat they eat – in a stealth health way. They are sure to lick their plates clean.
The Blend cooking technique works in ANY minced meat recipe, so try it with Tuesday taco night, classic rissoles, and burgers on the BBQ too.
It’s no wonder Aussie Mums are becoming blenditarians.