8 Delicious Ways to Sneak Vegetables Into Your Diet

Mommy's little secret? There's squash in that mac 'n' cheese. . Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

To those of us who salivate like Pavlov’s dog at the mere mention of kale and the like, the USDA’s recommendation to eat 2.5 to three cups of vegetables per day is a piece of cake, so to speak. But for the vegetable-averse, the thought of having to get that much plant matter down the gullet is more akin to a curse than a delight.

However, if you – or anyone you happen to be cooking for – fall into the latter camp, we have a workaround. We won’t condone skipping your vegetables, but you can make them less likely to offend by putting them in unexpected places. While vegetables with more outgoing personalities – like radishes or Brussels sprouts – may be too assertive to hide in the background, there are many others that are masters in the art of camouflage. Slip them in, and it’s as if they disappear into thin air. And the best part is, they do double-duty by replacing other ingredients that you may be looking to cut down on already, like butter, eggs and oil. The following tricks are some of our favorites when it comes to veggie subterfuge.

1. Slip beets into dessert
Chocolate beet cake sounds awful, doesn’t it? But guess what? It’s divine! In this bit of kitchen witchery, the sweetness and moisture of the beets work to optimize flavor and texture, while their earthy edge – which many people find unfavorable – packs up and hits the road.

Try this, which has two whole cups of beets: Chocolate Beet Cake

2. Sneak winter squash into pasta

Pumpkin, butternut and their winter squash kin are geniuses at disguise. One trick that many savvy (read: sneaky) moms have picked up on is adding pureed butternut squash to macaroni and cheese; it's remarkably undetectable. This is obviously the result of some kind of black magic or selling of the soul to the devil. But we don’t care. It’s healthy and delicious!

You can also mix pureed pumpkin or butternut into tomato sauce – it adds more nutrients and fiber, and makes it richer, but goes undetected. Try for a 50-50 ratio and see what you think. (And a secret tip here... shhhh: In a pinch, you can use squash baby food.)

Try this (and for the furtive factor, just call it "macaroni and cheese"): Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash

3. Tuck winter squash puree into sweet things
This one isn’t as much of a stretch, given that the favorite child of the winter squash family, pumpkin, plays muse to around 8,000 new menu items each autumn. But still, winter squash is a great addition to baked goods and desserts. You can replace some of the liquid in waffle or pancake recipes with squash puree; alternatively, you can swap in 1/4 cup squash puree per egg in cake and other baked good recipes.

Try this: Butternut Squash Muffins

And seriously, if you or your vegetable hater has a problem with this (with or without bourbon) there may be no help: Bourbon and Butternut Squash Ice Cream Floats

4. Smuggle beans into bars

Black bean brownies
Beans add a sneaky dimension to sweet treats. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Bar cookies and brownies, that is – because beans aren’t just for rice and burritos anymore. Turned into a puree and added to baked goods, they add moisture and structure (and protein and fiber!), with nary a hint of beany taste.

Try these: White Bean Blondies

5. Infiltrate your pesto

If you’re trying to feed anyone who shuns green food on principle, this one may be tricky, but we think it’s worth a shot. While traditional Genoese pesto is made from basil, the secret is that you can make pesto with a wide array of greens – and when combined with garlic, cheese, nuts and olive oil, the difference in taste is surprisingly subtle. Try using kale or spinach for starters – if the leafy-greens hater in your life likes pesto, you’re in luck. If you have success, move on to more full-figured greens. (While someone who will remain nameless tried using raw beet greens the other night and was accused of making “grass pesto with hints of hay,” many other greens take to the formula beautifully.)

And while you're at it: Mix up your nuts! Traditional pine nuts are rich and delicious, but currently a small scattering of them will set you back the price of a new pair of shoes. Almonds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, cashews, and hemp seeds all make perfectly suitable replacements. The same goes with cheese; no Parmesan? Try feta, cotija or any other hard cheese. (Vegans can add a dash of nutritional yeast in place of cheese.) Be limited only by your imagination. Below are the very basic proportions for pesto, so mix it up and have fun.

Mix and match pesto
2 cups packed green leafy vegetables
1-2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup nuts of your choice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cheese
Salt and pepper

Combine the greens, garlic, and nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. (Pesto purists can use a mortar and pestle.) Add the oil and process until fully incorporated, add cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Hide grated zucchini in surprising places

Zucchini is the secret agent of the vegetable world. When grated and tucked into casseroles or sauces, it seems to just go away; if you eat meat, add it to meatloaf, meatballs or burgers. And zucchini particularly likes to hide in places with chocolate. Chocolate Zucchini Bread is a common place to put it, but it’s also wonderful (and wonderfully hidden) in chocolate chip cookies.

Try: An adaptation of Barbara Kingsolver’s Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

7. Stow cauliflower in soups, salads and sauces

Cauliflower mashed potatoes
Cauliflower disappears when added to mashed potatoes. Viktor1/Shutterstock

Steamed and then pureed or roughly mashed cauliflower can be added to more dishes than you would ever guess – both hot and cold – and again, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it’s there. For starters, try these:

  • Add to mashed potatoes
  • Add to risotto
  • Add to tuna salad
  • Add to cheese soup
And then there’s this: You can make an exceedingly decadent-tasting Alfredo-style sauce (vegan or not) based on pureed cauliflower. Here’s a quickie recipe to get you started – and if you’re not vegan, skip the nutritional yeast and swap in some butter and dairy if you

Cauliflower faux Alfredo sauce

1 medium head of cauliflower

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 medium cloves of garlic, sautéed

1/2 cup plain non-dairy milk

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Divide the cauliflower into florets, boil in a large pot until tender (around 5 minutes). Drain in a colander. Add cauliflower and the rest of the ingredients to a food processor and blend until very smooth. Serve with pasta. (Or skip the pasta and just eat it directly from the bowl. It's that good!)

8. Employ eggplant as a fruit

Eggplant really is a fruit, but good luck trying that argument on an 8-year-old kid. However, incorporating eggplant as you would apples in a pie may help. Amazing what some slight of hand and a little sweetener can do! Eggplant can also be safely stashed, undetected, in brownies, cakes and even ice cream.

Try: Eggplant Tarte Tatin with Caramel

Do you have any tricky dishes that star hidden vegetables? Inspire us in the comment section!