Vivian Howard’s Sunday Dinner Spaghetti Sauce


All parents strive to feed their children healthy meals — and Vivian Howard is no different. 

When it comes to this challenge, Howard, host of the award-winning PBS show, “A Chef’s Life,” has realized that she is drawn to leaner meats and dishes that allow her to add some vegetables but leave the eater unaware. 

Turkey has become one of her go-to lean meats over the years with her children. It started when the twins, Flo and Theo, were eating baby food. After making pureed fruits and vegetables, Vivian said she stalked the baby food aisle at the grocery store aisles looking for inspiration when the twins were ready for more flavor and texture.

Her first foray into this territory was a turkey, sweet potato and farro sauté, which was a hit. The twins soon graduated to a turkey meatloaf where the meat was mixed with grated carrots and broccoli cooked until soft and fine. 

“I’ve used turkey as a canvas for hiding vegetables,” she says. “They will eat vegetables but I always feel like they could be eating more, particularly green stuff.” 

Vivian routinely employs this trick for a Sunday dinner spaghetti sauce that she serves Ben, the twins and her parents, John and Scarlett. For her sauce, Vivian uses ground turkey, like Butterball Farm to Family which is all natural and raised without any antibiotics. She sautés diced yellow onions and 2 cups each of diced carrots and baby spinach until soft and then purees them in a blender. This puree is added to the browned turkey along with two cans of diced tomatoes. Vivian cautions that the sauce looks green at first but turns red again as it cooks. She serves this sauce with pasta for Ben, the twins and her mom. But she serves this sauce with steamed heads of broccoli for her and her father who are trying to limit carbs.

“It’s really satisfying,” Vivian says. “It’s really good.” 

Vivian Howard’s Sunday Dinner Spaghetti Sauce
Don’t worry if the vegetable puree looks green in the blender, it changes once the spinach cooks. You can watch Vivian make this dish for her dad at

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ground turkey, like Butterball Farm to Family 90-percent lean
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 cups diced carrots
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups baby spinach
2 (16-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
4 large heads of broccoli, stems trimmed
Fresh Parmesan cheese, sliced (optional)

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and brown for 12 to 14 minutes. Once thoroughly cooked, remove from pan and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium, add onions, carrots, garlic and salt to the skillet. Sauté for about 7 minutes or until onions are translucent. Transfer sautéed veggies to a blender, add spinach and tomatoes, then puree until smooth.

Add ground turkey and vegetable puree to skillet. Simmer for 10 minutes.

While sauce simmers, prepare the broccoli: In a pan fitted with a steamer basket, add 2 inches of water and insert steamer basket.  Bring the water to a boil over high heat. When steam begins to emerge from pot, add broccoli crowns. (If you don’t have a steamer, fill pot with 1 inch of water and place broccoli directly in it.) Cover pan and reduce heat to medium. Steam for 15 to 18 minutes. 

Once broccoli is fork tender, remove it and place each crown on a dinner plate.  Smother each crown with a generous helping of sauce. Top with fresh slices of Parmesan cheese if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

Photo by Baxter Miller