Everyone knows that vegetables are packed with both vitamins and minerals that are vital to a healthy lifestyle. However, adults and children alike have trouble getting in their greens.
The U.S. Departure of Agriculture recommends that children ages 8 and younger get 1 to 1.5 cups of vegetables per day; girls and boys ages 9 to 18 get between 2 and 3 cups; and adults get 2 .5 to 3 cups a day. Telling that to a staunch anti-vegetable activist or a child who won’t eat anything but Cheerios is easier said than done, but it’s still important that both adults and children get their greens, and that’s where a couple of handy tricks come in.
The good thing about greens is that they can be easily hidden inside juices, smoothies, sandwiches, breakfasts, and more. Thanks to the vegetables’ usually less-than-pungent taste, those in charge of the healthy kitchen can often sneak vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collards into dishes served to the least-suspecting “victims.”
It’s a win-win situation because consumers can get their greens without having to taste them and the chefs behind the operation can rest peacefully knowing that health recommendations are being met. And the technique is even beneficial for those who like greens, because not even the healthiest consumers want to have salads for every meal. Sometimes it’s hard for adults to find ways to fit in all their vegetables.
Here are six easy ways to sneak your veggies into meals without having to taste them or having to tell your children or significant other what they’re eating. Some may refuse to eat those plants, but what they don’t know can’t hurt them.
1. Smoothies and juice
First up, we’ll start with smoothies and juice, as sneaking vegetables into these naturally sweetened beverages is arguably the easiest way to hide greens. We already discussed the art of juicing, but as a reminder, greens can easily be included on the ingredients list of a homemade juice concoction.
While you can always slurp down a basic green juice to get those antioxidant vitamins in quickly, you can also hide the tastes of the greens by making something like a mojito mocktail of kale, lemon, apple, ginger, and mint. If your kids aren’t fans of the minty flavor yet, serve them a kid-friendly autumn sunrise juice containing carrots, celery, apples, oranges, and lemon, and once again, you’re getting closer to hitting your vegetable quota.
You also have the option of making smoothies, which might be your best bet with kids, not only because smoothies are easier to make than juices (they don’t require juicers or cleaning out the pulp from blenders), but also because many consumers enjoy the thickness of smoothies and varieties you can make from them. No matter what flavor you’re going for with your smoothie, you can easily add spinach or kale to the mix without compromising taste.
And if you really want to mask all hints of earthiness, make a berry smoothie and toss in a few handfuls of washed baby spinach or kale. Leafy green vegetables have almost no calories and are loaded with fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. Your taste buds won’t know the difference, but your body will. And while you’re add it, consider adding some greek yogurt into the mix. That’ll boost the protein content of your smoothie and further strengthen the nutritional profile of your drink.
While we’re on the topic of breakfast, we might as well turn to eggs as another good example of a food that you can use as a vehicle to get your greens. Omelets and scrambled eggs are easy foods to love, and they’re just as easy to fancy when they have some hidden vegetables packed in them — if they’re done right, you can’t even taste the greens. Next time you’re preparing your eggs in the skillet, toss a handful of dark greens into the pan before you add your cheese, onions, salsa, etc. The greens will cook down easily, so don’t be shy about throwing in a lot. The eggs will easily mask the taste of the plants, and the texture of the meal will be identical.
Here’s the recipe for a fresh spinach omelette from Cooks.com. It serves three.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- 8 eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- dash of pepper
- 1/4 cup of chopped spinach
In skillet over medium heat, cook garlic for one minute in butter. In small bowl, beat eggs, salt, pepper, and two tablespoons of water. Stir in spinach. Tilt spinach to grease sides. Pour egg mixture into skillet; cook until set around sides. With a spatula, lift edges, tilting skillet to let uncooked portion to run under omelette. Shake skillet occasionally to keep egg moving in pan. Increase heat slightly to brown bottom of omelette. With spatula, fold omelette in half; slide onto warm platter. Serve immediately.
3. Baked goods
Another favorite way to get those veggies down the hatchet is by cooking them into baked goods. That way, your consumers really won’t know what hit them. Baked goods typically aren’t the most healthy fare, but the sugar in them does have its advantages, as it easily masks the greens’ flavor and leads eaters to wanting more. No one said you had to get your greens via a healthy salad all the time.
Some of the most popular recipes that sneak greens into goods include those for zucchini bread, sweet potato pie, carrot-walnut cake, and cornbread muffins. Sure, not all of these treats have the greatest nutritional profile, but they do pack in their vegetables, meaning they meet the criteria for our list.
Here’s a recipe for zucchini bread from Simple Recipes.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 cups grated fresh zucchini
- 2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- pinch of salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
- 1 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Butter two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture and stir it in. Add the flour, one-third at a time, stirring after each incorporation. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmeg over the batter and mix. Fold in the nuts and dried cranberries or raisins if using.
Divide the batter equally between the loaf pans. Bake for 55 minutes (check for doneness at 50 minutes) or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.
4. Wraps, sandwiches, and burgers
Next up, throw those greens in a wrap or on a sandwich or burger. Sure, you can see the greens when they’re on a sandwich or in a wrap, but you can hardly taste them, and if anything, they just give the sandwich a better crunch. Next time you’re building your child a wrap, sneak some spinach between the meat, cheese, and bread. He or she might not even notice it.
You also have the option of sautéing spinach or kale to cook down the greens before serving them on a sandwich or wrap. This will decrease their size and make them more inconspicuous. Sautéing them will also bring out the natural flavors of the greens so you aren’t left with raw kale or spinach, which some say are too bitter.
5. Soups, stews, and chilis
Onto some dinner and lunch options, we come to the popular method of sneaking greens into soups and stews. These comfort meals that are enjoyed over the winter months are usually already teeming with good-for-you ingredients, but you can bulk up their nutritional profile even more by throwing a couple of cups of greens into the crockpot, as well. And if you really think your kids will be on to you, here’s a trick: When you add vegetables to a soup or dish such as lasagne, sauté the veggies until soft and puree the cooked vegetables before adding to the dish. This even goes for a crock pot. The veggies won’t lose their nutrients and you won’t lose your veggie battle with your kids. It’s a win-win situation.
Here’s a kid-friendly recipe from Bev Cooks for an old favorite in chicken noodle soup, but this time with greens.
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 pound spaghetti or any long noodle
- 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
- 4 cups chopped or torn kale
- coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- saltine crackers
Bring the stock to a light boil. Add the pasta and cook until mostly al dente. Add the chicken and kale, simmer another two minutes or so. Season well with salt and pepper. Add some saltine crackers to get on your kids’ good side.
When in doubt, hide those greens in carbs and cheese. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like good lasagne, casserole, or better yet, mac and cheese, and you can easily lure picky eaters into consuming greens by sneaking them into their favorite dishes. Here are two recipes, one for a bulked-up mac and cheese and another for beef and spinach lasagne. Both dishes hide their spinach within the inner layers of carby, cheesy goodness, so even if your loved ones do spy the greens, they’ll be in too much of a cheese-and-carb coma to say anything.
Here’s an updated mac and cheese from Delish.com.
- 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumb
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1 package (16 ounce or 10 ounce) frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 3/4 cups 1 percent milk, divided
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
- 1 cup low-fat (1 percent) cottage cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 8 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni or penne
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat an 8-inch square (2 quart) baking dish with cooking spray. Mix breadcrumbs, oil, and paprika in a small bowl. Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain and refresh under cold water; press out excess moisture.
Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Cook pasta for four minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
Beef and spinach lasagne via Taste Of Home.
- 1 pound lean ground beef (90 percent lean)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 jars (24 ounces each) spaghetti sauce
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
- 9 no-cook lasagne noodles
In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the spaghetti sauce, garlic, basil, and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, and one cup of mozzarella cheese.
Spread 1 to 1/2 cups meat sauce into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top with three noodles. Spread 1 to 1/2 cups sauce to edges of noodles. Top with half of the spinach mixture. Repeat layers. Top with the remaining noodles, sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
Cover and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Yield: 12 servings.