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I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like, but I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm. My friend, Richard, for example, has little room in his heart—or on his plate—for cooked vegetables. But what if I just slip them in when no one is looking? (Like in that spice cake you liked so much, Richard. No harm, no foul. Right?)
I’ve stashed pureed cauliflower in mashed potatoes, hidden shredded carrots and zucchini in pans of lasagna and mashed edamame into guacamole—and no one has been the wiser. Not only do such antics painlessly up the vegetable quotient of the meal, but they also dilute the calories per serving.
You’ll find lots of clever recipes on the Internet but the basic principles are easy to master. Mildly flavored vegetables such as summer squash, carrots, beets and chard make good stowaways because they don’t upstage the flavor of the main ingredients. Depending on the dish, you can often tuck between 1⁄4 and 3⁄4 of a cup of vegetables per serving into a recipe. For maximal cloaking effect, shred or grate your vegetables finely and avoid obvious contrasts of color. Beets will disappear into chocolate cake, for example, but they’ll be hard to hide in macaroni and cheese.
Lots of parents I know have embraced the stealth vegetable as a way to avoid dinner table drama, and there are entire cookbooks (such as Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious”) dedicated to the art of hiding vegetables in plain sight. These tactics can certainly increase the amount of veggies (and nutrients) your kids consume. Unfortunately, they don’t do a whole lot to improve child-vegetable relations. There’s a lot to be said for raising kids who are willing to eat vegetables that look—and taste—like vegetables. Because, let’s face it, most of the chocolate cake out there in the real world does not contain beets.
On the other hand, even vegetable lovers like me can still struggle to fit five servings into a busy day. Stuffing a handful of spinach into my morning smoothie lets me cross one off before 8 a.m.! In the end, whether you classify vegetables as friends or foes, a few sneaky beets can help you meet your quota. Just remember that vegetables don’t cancel out calories, fat or sugar. Zucchini bread is still dessert—and the squash doesn’t constitute a license to have a second piece.
Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva, is a Baltimore-based licensed nutritionist and professionally trained chef. Her latest book is “Secrets for a Healthy Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid and What to Stop Worrying About.”