Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let's Hear It For Sneaky Mommas!

After seeing my recent pea-filled St. Patty's Sandwich, Vegan Lunch Box reader Roxy shared this tip: "I like to blend peas into guacamole--it adds more nutrition to the already nutritious dip and you really can't tell the peas are in there. I use about 1/4 cup of peas to every large avocado. Yum!" Thanks, Roxy, I love it! In fact, it inspired me to make a post especially for sharing these kinds of ideas.

Sometimes it seems like the only way you can get children to eat vegetables is to slip a bit in quietly here and there. Kids might also be resistant to eating beans, or nuts, or ground flaxseed, or their daily vitamin. What is a parent to do?

As those of you who have read my book will know, I love getting sneaky! And when it comes to getting healthy foods into reluctant kids, I think a Vita-Mix is a Sneaky Momma's Best Friend. I use mine almost every day to blend vegetables into creamy soups, cooked kale into pizza sauce, even spinach into breakfast smoothies!

Of course, I don't actually lie about what is in my blended concoctions, but even when I tell my son that his favorite black bean soup is filled with onions, zucchini, and peppers, he tends to shrug and keep on eating. I guess it's "out of sight, out of mind", and what he can't see can't gross him out.

What other tips do you have for us desperate Sneaky Mommas (and Poppas)? Please share! And don't worry -- your secrets are safe with us.


Suelily said...

Two things come to mind. 1, I was shocked a few years ago when I found out how many dishes my mom made with zucchini lurking in the background. It turns out it was everywhere - spaghetti sauce, pizza, banana bread, carrot cake, everywhere. 2, This is not vegetable-related but I have cousins who will not touch bread pudding, but are all about french toast casserole. Can you make vegan french toast, by the way?

Jennifershmoo said...

>>Can you make vegan french toast, by the way?

Absolutely! My favorite recipe is from "Vegan With A Vengeance", but do a Google search for "vegan french toast" and you'll find scads of recipes. :-)

Unknown said...

My mom used to blend carrots and mix that into melted cheese.

Or if she made her own juice, she'd mix apple and carrot together.

Dana said...

I don't have to sneak anything by the foster kids we have, thankfully. Both the 7 year old and the 2 year old will eat ANYTHING I put in front of them, and we eat some interesting vegetables on a regular basis. They both love fresh steamed artichokes, roasted beets, sunchokes, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, lima beans, brussel's sprouts, cooked greens of any kind, edamame beans...I could go on and on! The 7 yr.old only has two things he doesn't like: eggs and RAW onions. (I feel blessed, for sure!)

Nicole said...

I'm not a momma but often I have to sneak the vegetables by my husband. To my chili, I add V8 and flax seed (looks just like tomato seeds).

Jennifershmoo said...

>>They both love fresh steamed artichokes, roasted beets, sunchokes, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, lima beans, brussel's sprouts, cooked greens of any kind, edamame beans...

Oh, you ARE lucky!!

JanetPG said...

Yes, yes - I've put vegies in everything, too. And now my family and I prefer the more full-bodied tastes of dishes with vegies. We particularly enjoy adding baked, mashed sweet potatoes to foods. Sweet potato added to pancakes gives a subtle wonderful flavor that we love. Non-vegetarian guests (some of whom don't "like" sweet potatoes) will comment on how tasty the pancakes are, not recognizing the "secret ingredient."

WendyZ said...

I also wanted to say that the book THE SNEAKY CHEF by Missy Chase Lapine is getting lots of attention. From what I've read, it sounds great, but of course it's not vegan/vegetarian.

Anonymous said...

Nicole - You really need to grind flax seeds in order to get the nutritional benefit from them. We just don't digest them well.

I am loving all these tips!

Melissa said...

I've become a sneaky girlfriend! I blend veggies into soups too, so that my boyfriend will eat them. I love the idea of blending kale into pizza sauce!

Mama Fabun said...

My tip is a pretty obvious one but hasn't really been mentioned yet. My 3-year-old will pretty much eat anything that comes in a muffin liner, so I pack as many veggies as possible (mostly carrots & zucchini but also others) into baked goodies. I also use wheat germ & flax seed in most pancakes, muffins, etc.

Sometimes getting a child to like the foods (s)he eats is as simple as changing what you call it. My little boy loves salads, veg chili and edamame but don't DARE mention there are vegetables in there.

Autumn said...

if my son doesn't want to eat something i always say "ok, i guess i'll just give it to the dog than" and he gets right on his food. apparently he doesn't like to share. good way to get him to eat!

April said...

My favorite sneaky trick is to add spinach to mashed potatoes. I just add a package of frozen spinach to a big pot of potatoes.

It turns the potatoes turn a fun green color. The kids pretend they're eating swamp potatoes (especially after the gravy is added on top). I always tried to pass them off as a grassy hill, but apparently, Swampy works better.

Elizabeth said...

I once put beets into tomato spaghetti sauce....though the kids could definitely tell (WHY is the sauce this color?) they ate it and actually asked me to do that again! I guess that just shows that veggies in different forms from the usual are welcome.

Alisa Fleming said...

I try my hand at sneaky wife. For extra vitamin A I put leftover pumpkin puree from baking into chili or spaghetti sauce. It works the same for cooked carrots and squash. It sweetens it a bit, which my husband actually likes, even though he hates those foods.

I haven't tried this one, but I have heard steamed cauliflower mashed into potatoes works well.

I am a long time spinach in the smoothie person - blueberry smoothies mask the color very well too!

Thank you for the green peas idea, I hadn't thought of that!

Siercia said...

I am blessed with a kindergartener who not only eats nearly every kind of vegetable, she asks for them, and a husband that'll eat nearly anything too.

I've not had to sneak vegetables into my cooking, but I love these ideas for finding ways to add extra veggies to your cooking without them being obvious. I think it even helps me to pack more nutrition into my cooking.

Sandra B. said...

Jennifer, I just found your website and love it. We are not vegan, but my daughter (almost 7 months) was just diagnosed with milk and eggs allergies (possibly soybeans and peanuts). So I like it when things are described as vegan, because I know right away that there won't be and milk or eggs, if there's soybeans in a receipe I can normally change it out for something else, like rice milk. Thank you for doing such hard work :)

Amy Goldstein said...

Every day my super utterly pickly three- fruit eatin' child thinks she's getting a blueberry smoothie. HA! Try Blueberry cherry carrot pinapple red cabbage with apples. God bless the Vita Mixer. Oh, and that black bean soup she devours, no clue it's got greens and tomatoes and seventeen other ground up veggies in the background. This one, for now, I'M WINNING!

Judy said...

When I was a kid, my mom was pretty sneaky. We used to eat (and love) French Toast with ketchup, which sounds totally disgusting, but since our French toast was just bread dipped in a mixture of egg and milk, and fried in a non-stick skillet, it wasn't sweet. I didn't realize French toast was supposed to be sugary and sweet until I was a teen. Also, she made 'milkshakes' which was just milk, raw egg, and vanilla flavouring. We thought we were having the best dessert!

Heidi Snavley said...

I am also one of those lucky few that have kids that LOVE vegetables and other vegetarian "weird foods". But I have a niece that does not eat vegetables except at my house, lol. She loves fresh juice so I put a big wad of spinach in the juicer and say, "look at the pretty colored juice!" She guzzles it down. Of course I put lots of orange and apple, oh, and a few carrots too.

.letting go said...

How about a sneaky food-services coordinator? I worked at a busy youth drop in for street involved youth - read: nutrient starved kids who never learned to like vegetables.

The other vegan coordinator and I served up food for 100+ people, packed with beans, zuchinni, carrots, tomatoes, kale, soy protein, fresh local fruits and whole grains. Vegan chili was a staple, as were things like vegan corn chowder and veggie soups, vegan lasagnas and casseroles.

It worked.It was all about making standard issue foods and throwing in hidden veggies. The masher was our friend. It will be yours too.

lovelines said...

My mom used the blender like a secret agent. Smoothies always had a hint of celery or carrot or some other vegetable, but it was never enough to really change the taste of the fruit and yogurt. Sauces also generally came with vegetables chopped really fine.

Basically, anything to hide the look of the vegetable was enough to sneak it into my diet as a kid.

johnhenry said...

I use my microplane to grate carrots into everything! ...spaghetti sauce, scrambled tofu, soup, tacos, muffins. I also make a lot of tacos/burritos. It is amazing what veggies you can hide in a tortilla! I make a burrito with peppers, onions, and mushrooms (and they have no idea!) Pureeing roasted red peppers and adding them is a great trick and extra tasty, too!

Carla said...

I have a couple of things on my blog which have stuff sneaked in which the kids love - Orange and Parsnip Cupcakes, Chocolate Avocado Pie, and I've also made a Beet Chocolate Cupcakes in the past which they like. They are pretty good at eating the F&V that they like but anything new or different I have to sneak in, and then after a while I can say "but you liked it when" and they may eat it without sneaking from then on.

Jacki said...

I guess my mom was a meanie; if we didn't eat something on our plate we had to eat it for breakfast! Although I don't think I'll do this when I have kids, because I don't want to put the fear of God in them for not finishing everything - I subscribe more to the "eat when you're hungry stop when you're full" theory. I DO have a very picky husband, however, so I've learned to sneak veggies in. I've tried the cauliflower in the mashed potatoes, and it was good - just make sure the cauliflower is well cooked, and it helps to mash them seperately, them add them to the potatoes.

Unknown said...

in the past few days i've realized that my 2 year old will eat anything i call a "cookie". i wonder how long i should press this?? and does anyone have any healthy cookie recipes so i can sneak in some more vegies into my picky toddler?

thanks so much!

Jennifershmoo said...

Great tips, you guys!!

Unknown said...

I don't have kids but growing up my Dad would make us speckled mash potato. We all though it was delicious. Little did we know the speckle was really spinach.

Just found your blog! Looking forward to reading more.

Suzi :-)

Regina said...

I've also heard of a cookbook called "Stealth Health" by Evelyn Tribole. It's not vegan, but I bet at least some of the recipes are easily adaptable, and it's got good sneaky tips.

Brittany said...

kale in pizza sauce..interesting

Twisted Cinderella said...

great ideas! I have a picky picky girl so anything to help is awesome.

Bradley said...

My mom used to make spinach balls as appetizers. As a child I disliked spinach but loved parsley. So my mom used to make a special batch of parsley ones for me. Of course it was not until years later that I found out that there never was a special batch at all!

Mama Fabun said...

One more tip I just tried out:

Blend one lb. of silken tofu with your favorite jam/fresh fruit/juice, pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Both my son and husband LOVED these. Tofu isn't something that's easy to get my toddler to eat.

Oh, and I also make "Tubby Custards" using pumpkin, tofu & maple syrup, baked in little ramekins. My boy gobbles these down.

AnnMarie said...

This one requires a dehydtrator (or other source for dried veggies): We take our dried veggies and grind them up to nearly a powder in the blender. I originally did this for a cracker recipe, then my dear husband thought of putting it on top of our daughter's food. She ADORES it as a topping, and gets lots of veggies she passes by when they are real-looking. I also add this into breads, spaghetti sauce, and other places you can hide it.

LadyRachelLynn said...

Parenting Magazine had an article this month on sneaking vegetables into foods. The recipes they had weren't vegetarian or vegan, but the sneaking ideas can be applied to any foods. They talked about making three basic purees....spinach/blueberry, cannellini bean, and yam/carrot. They then added these purees to things like burgers, mac n cheese, and brownies.

It sounds like it may work, but I won't be trying it as I don't have a picky eater.

Unknown said...

When my daughter was 2 we couldn't get her to eat anything but beans and rice. Not a bad thing but it got old. So I started smoothies. Anything goes good in a blender. We'd do tofu and frozen fruit but we'd also add pumpkin and sweet potato. Also GREEN PANCAKES - spinach in pancakes is surprisingly yummy. She loves that they are green.
On another note my daughter now 4 1/2 got her first Vegan Lunchbox lunch today! SHE ATE EVERY LAST BITE in the box! Tortilla roll up with refried beans, cumin & black olives, fresh strawberries, red bell pepper with the easy ranch dip, and a soy yogurt. Literally every bite. I'm *SO* glad I bought your book! Thank you.
My husband also had his first VLB meal today - layered bean dip (since I'd opened the can) and a big fat salad. I make him use the Fit & Fresh box from Bed Bath & Beyond. Oh and I added salsa to the ranch to make it spicy for the salad he gave it a thumbs up. :)

bazu said...

I don't have kids but I love reading these tips! My mom says my brother and I both liked fruits and veggies because she didn't let either of us taste refined sugar until we were about 4. I think if kids taste veggies first, they will learn to appreciate the complex flavors of vegetables. One of my all-time favorite things in the world is fresh-squeezed apple carrot juice, and this is something I used to drink as a kid. These tastes stick with you! Nowadays, I add some ginger to my juice...

Amie Dianne said...

Hi Jennifer,

I've been a loyal reader of your blog for a number of months now, and I finally feel like I have something to contribute in the comments! Thank you so much for sharing so many wonderful recipes & food ideas on your site. Reading blogs about happy, healthy vegan families (like yours and Dreena's), and seeing the luscious food you eat gave me the courage & inspiration I needed to cut out the last 3 animal foods in my diet: fish, eggs, and honey. It's been about a month now, and I've been very happy with my decision. :-)

On the topic of sneaky vegetables, I'd like to share a recipe from a cookbook published locally near my hometown. All the recipes were contributed by families in Lafayette, CA. This has won over my friend's veggie-hating younger brother and several picky-eater friends (the type who pick all the veggies off their pizza and insist they "hate onions and bell peppers").

Vegetarian (Vegan!!) Burritos With Peanut Sauce

(I think the key here is the veggies are chopped small, and the delicious peanut sauce permeates the flavor of the filling.)

Peanut Sauce:
6 Tbsp Peanut Butter
10 Tbsp vegetable oil
8 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
8 Tbsp sugar (or healthy substitute, see note)
8 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp (or more) minced green onion
4 Tbsp (or more) minced fresh cilantro

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
2 green onions, sliced
10 oz frozen corn, thawed
3 cups cooked brown rice
12 flour tortillas, warmed

Sauce: Mix the peanut butter and oil in a food processor or blender. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, and process until blended.

Filling: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium/medium-high heat and saute the zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, carrot, and green onion until slightly limp. Add the corn and brown rice and heat through. Mix in 1/4 cup of the peanut sauce and heat through. To serve, spread some peanut sauce on a tortilla, add some of the veggie and rice mixture, and roll up burrito style.

Notes: I toss in an extra handful of green onion and cilantro to the sauce because it adds so much flavor. I've successfully used part stevia to sweeten the sauce and reduced the sugar accordingly. Be careful when substituting maple syrup or agave, as this changes the liquid proportions and you may need to add extra peanut butter and soy sauce to compensate. I'd like to try blending dates into the sauce, as I imagine this would work great, especially in the Vita-Mix. Obviously, the cayenne can be left out or reduced, but I find it's not overly spicy--just enough to give the sauce a pleasant kick. I imagine some diced firm or baked tofu would be good in this dish for extra protein, but it's very satisfying as is. Hope you & others enjoy!

Unknown said...

This may sound weird, but I used to include cooked and sliced cabbage and potatoes in stuffed pizza. When they're cooked together, the cabbage and potato provide a similar texture to mozzerella cheese. With a stuffed pizza, cheese is usually sliced as a filling rather a grated topping (like a calzone). With a lot of pizza sauce, a flavourful crust, nutritional yeast, and other toppings, my kids never noticed.

Reba said...

I love all these comments! My 2 year old son won't eat anything. Seriously I think he might starve himself some days!
The one thing I have been successful with though is Jennifer's whole meal muffins from Vegan Lunch Box and also making a juice by blending pineapple, banana and kale with ice water. My son LOVES it and always asks for more "green juice".
I also discovered Ian's frozen foods brand "Super tots" they are alphabet shaped potato fries combined with real vegetables (carrot, cauliflower and peas)my son thinks he is eating french fries and loves the shapes too.

Jenn Cornish said...

I just discovered that if you boil about the same volume of finely-shredded white cabbage with potatoes and mash them together (with vegan marg/salt etc), you don't even notice the cabbage! Both my husband and I love cabbage, but sometimes it's nice to just have a little extra nutrition in normally nutrient-low comfort food.

letterknit said...

My friend calls this "stealth heatlh"! I love it!

Renee said...

Hi! I found this blog last year on some awards website, and just took the time to read it today. Great stuff!

This thread is really useful - I like the blended carrots in cheese idea, I'll have to try that with grilled cheese. I also heard on the TV Show "Good Eats" that just about any fruit preserves go with just about any cheese for a
"gourmet" grilled cheese sandwich! Not vegan, but I had a spicy pepper cheese & strawberry jelly grilled cheese the other day and it was good!

Ami - for "cookie" ideas, my mom used to make spinach balls and called them "Green Wonder Cookies" and my sister and I would ask for them all the time! Here's a similar recipe:,191,157162-242193,00.html

though I don't use cheddar cheese in mine.

mszzzi said...

I like to add mashed (roughly) garbanzos to oatmeal. It seems to have a better flavor, kind of nutty, but definitely a more complex/better flavor.
I have also used kidney beans, black beans and tahini (not all at once). My 3yr old usually picks which to put in, so it's not hidden, it just tastes better. :)

We're also lucky that he'll eat just about anything, he will try new things, too.

The only things I know for sure that he won't eat are :
regular garlic in stuff (elephant garlic is fine though) and green beans (never has liked them, wax beans are ok, as are other beans, just greenbeans, or peas if they are in a pod). Heh.

Anonymous said...

wow, jennifer schmoo, this was a great post idea.

i am always so inspired by your blog. thank you!

some of the suggestions would be great for us beginners if developed a little further... i would really love to try the spinach in pancakes and the spinach/pear/ something, smoothie

but i'm too much of a beginner to know proportions on my own!

Sarah said...

My son is allergic to dairy and I am allergic to soy, so I had to come up with an ice cream we both could have.... Ready for this....
Chop up ripe bananas and put them in a freezer bag and freeze until solid. Then place them in a food processor with a tiny bit of almond milk (or whatever substitute you use) and process. It makes the creamiest, silkiest banana ice cream!! The add-in's are endless... we used carob chips. :)

QueenHoneyB said...

Wow, I got a lot of great ideas here! My 14 month old daughter hates her veggies. She's okay with some fruits, and she adores muffins, breads, and pastas. So here's what I do:

1. I mix flaxseed meal with her (wholegrain) pasta when it's warm and sometimes I add a little nutritional yeast, too, to get her used to the flavor.

2. I add pureed/grated veggies to muffins and breads that I bake. Unfortunately my oven broke last week so I had to come up with something new and it's a hit!...

3. Popsicles! I use a base of avacado/coconut milk/soymilk (your choice or a blend or other bases you can think of). I add banana and other frozen fruit if I have it. Then I add some steamed carrots and beets. Beets make it a wonderful color! And my daughter wouldn't even eat it when I didn't put beets in it. haha! And you can't taste the beets and carrots at all! You could also stick this mix into an icecream maker for creamy healthy icecream (oh, I add dates if it's not sweet enough).

Bambi said...

My vegan son for some reason hates vegetables and fruit. He only likes avocado and rarely bananas when he wants to pretend to be a monkey... but seriously only once a few month will he eat a whole banana. I'm always cooking and I've tried getting my son to eat his vegetables cut into cute little pieces steamed, sauteed, baked, whatever he hates them. I love them so I don't know where his negative attitude towards fruit and veggies stems. I don't look at blending his fruit or veggies into every meal as being deceptive or sneaky because he refuses to eat them otherwise. I look at it as absolutely vital to his health. He is still breast-feeding at 3 years old so this might have something to do with his texture problem. Does anyone have any ideas about how to get a toddler to eat their veggies and fruit in it's true form?
This morning for the first time I made Chocolate Tree Teddy Bear muffins for breakfast and while he ate it I told him a story about a little boy who goes into the woods and has green chocolate chip muffins with a green teddy bear who lives in the forest. He was so happy and it made breakfast really fun. For the ingredients I use pineapple juice, frozen spinach, banana, chickpea flour, white flour, baking powder, calcium fortified soy milk, chocloate chips, sunflower oil and some unrefined sugar. Oh did I mention that my son won't eat anything sweet unless it has chocolate in it? He won't even drink juice or soy milk. I think the chocolate addiction has something to do with being raised in France, the french sneak a little bit of chocolate into every meal.
Some other hits are Lentil Soup with the veggies blended in tomato sauce. Bean Paté which is actually just refried beans blended with lots of steamed veggies, tomato sauce and herbs/spices. My son loves pasta and rice so I can add blended sauces and stuff to these and he will usually eat them as long as it has a good flavor.
my son is a little too thin due to his pickiness, does anyone have ideas about how to increase calories in nutritious meals?
He eats plenty of bread already, some tofu every day although he doesn't really like it I have to mash it with the veggies...
Thanks for your help everyone. :)
I love this blog.