Sneaky recipes combine purées into children’s favorite foods

With an electric mixer and food processor, it is possible to create velvety purées out of just about
Sneaky Chef masterful mac ’n’ cheese is a recipe from "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals."
Sneaky Chef masterful mac ’n’ cheese is a recipe from "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals."

You’ve tried all the clever hints and suggestions, from creating cutesy smiley faces out of celery stalks and raisins to smothering carrot sticks in a medley of dips and sauces and flat-out bribing your child to eat his parsnips and peas.

Still, you just can’t seem to get a vegetable passed his pursed lips.

Not to worry. There is something you can do.

With an electric mixer and food processor, it is possible to create velvety purées out of just about anything, including chickpeas, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Once incorporated into dishes like macaroni and cheese and yummy treats such as cookies and chocolate cupcakes, these smoothly blended concoctions become undetectable to both the tastebuds and the naked eye.

It may sound somewhat sneaky, but two recently released cookbooks are chock full of recipes utilizing quick and easy purées for such dishes as beet-laden pancakes and tortillas packed with yellow squash.

First out in April of last year was “The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals,” by Missy Chase Lapine, published by the Running Press, an imprint owned by Perseus Books. A former publisher of Eating Well magazine, Lapine writes about how she developed a hiding technique to get her picky daughters to eat what she wanted them to eat.

In her book, she introduces desperate parents to meatballs tricked out with hidden vegetables, including all the dreaded green ones, as well as mashed potatoes smashed with protein-rich white beans.

Then came “Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food,” by Jessica Seinfeld, published last October by Collins, a division of HarperCollins. (Last week, Lapine filed suit against Seinfeld, claiming copyright and trademark infringement.)

Seinfeld speaks of a weekly ritual she created that consists of utilizing dozens of containers of vegetable purées and adding them to meals for their three kids during the week.

The idea of putting whipped vegetables in children’s foods has been written about elsewhere many times, and the Internet is filled with recipes for brownies spiked with spinach and pudding with avocado. But with recent press and positive feedback from parent and child testers, the trend is hotter than ever.

It seems getting that little one to devour his vegetables may not be such an impossible task after all. In fact, maybe he’ll be begging for seconds.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Avocado and Cauliflower

Recipe from “Deceptively Delicious,” Harper Collins Publishers, 2007.


Nonstick cooking spray

1 cup avocado purée

11⁄2 cups sugar

1 cup nonfat (skim) milk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1⁄2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 large egg whites

2 cups all-purpose flour

1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1⁄2 teaspoon salt


1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese

1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1⁄4 cup cauliflower purée

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl of an electric mixer, beat the avocado purée, sugar, milk, vanilla and vinegar until smooth. Beat in the egg whites one at a time, just until incorporated. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, and mix until smooth.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake until the tops of the cupcakes are lightly browned and spring back to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting them.

For the frosting, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, cauliflower purée, vanilla and salt until smooth. Spread over the cooled cupcakes. Store the cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Brownies with carrot and spinach

Recipe from “Deceptively Delicious,” Harper Collins Publishers, 2007.

Nonstick cooking spray

3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

1⁄2 cup carrot purée

1⁄2 cup spinach purée

1⁄2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar

1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons trans-fat-free soft tub margarine spread

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 large egg whites

3⁄4 cup oat flour or all-purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or over a very low flame.

In a large bowl, combine the melted chocolate, vegetable purées, sugar, cocoa powder, margarine and vanilla, and whisk until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in egg whites. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt with a wooden spoon.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into 12 bars.

Sneaky Chef bonus burgers

Recipe from The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals, Running Press Book Publishers, 2007.

Purple Puree:

3 cups raw baby spinach leaves (or 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, or frozen chopped collard greens)

11⁄2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (no syrup or sugar added)

1⁄2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 to 2 tablespoons water


1 large egg

1⁄4 cup purple purée (see below)

3 tablespoons ketchup

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs

1 pound lean ground beef

8 to 10 American cheese slices (optional)

8 to 10 hamburger buns or English muffins (preferably whole grain)

Pickle slices and ketchup to garnish

For purple purée, if using raw spinach, thoroughly wash it, even if the package says “prewashed.” Bring spinach or collards and water to boil in a medium pot. Turn heat to low and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. If using frozen blueberries, quickly rinse them under cold water to thaw a little, and then drain.

Fill the bowl of your food processor with the blueberries and cooked spinach (or collards), along with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of water, and purée on high until as smooth as possible. Stop occasionally to push top contents to bottom. If necessary, use a second tablespoon of water to make a fairly smooth purée.

This amount of spinach and blueberries makes only about 1 cup of purée.

To make burgers, in a large bowl, mix egg, purple purée, ketchup, salt and bread crumbs. Then add the ground beef, mixing with hands until well combined. If too sticky, add a few more bread crumbs.

Using damp hands, shape mixture into 8 to 10 patties that are fairly thin. At this point, the burgers may be prepared a day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. If you are not freezing for future use, proceed to next steps.

Spray a large skillet or grill pan with nonstick cooking spray and set over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Cook the burgers for 3 minutes on each side, then flip and add cheese (optional) to melt over patties for another 3 minutes.

Serve on fresh, soft burger buns or English muffins, along with ketchup and pickles.

Makes 8 to 10 burgers.

Sneaky Chef masterful mac ’n’ cheese

Recipe from The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals, Running Press Book Publishers, 2007.

White purée:

2 cups cauliflower, cut into florets

2 small to medium zucchini, peeled and rough-chopped

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 to 2 tablespoons water, if necessary


1⁄2 pound macaroni (preferably whole-wheat blend)

11⁄2 cups milk

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup white purée (see below)

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated colby or cheddar cheese

2 large eggs (optional extra boost)

For white purée, steam cauliflower in a vegetable steamer over 2 inches of water, using a tightly covered pot, for about 10 to 12 minutes until very tender. Alternatively, place cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with water, and microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes until very tender.

While waiting for the cauliflower to finish steaming, start to pulse the raw peeled zucchini with the lemon juice only (no water at this point). Drain the cooked cauliflower. Working in batches if necessary, add it to the pulsed zucchini in the bowl of the food processor with one tablespoon of water. Purée on high until smooth. Stop occasionally and push contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, use the second tablespoon of water to make a smooth (but not wet) purée.

Makes about 2 cups of purée.

For macaroni: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-square baking pan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions, until firm and slightly undercooked. Drain and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the milk with the white purée and salt. (If using eggs, whisk them in with the milk mixture.) Put half of the macaroni into the baking pan and top with half the cheddar (or colby) cheese. Next, layer with the rest of the macaroni, and then pour the milk mixture over the top, finishing with the last of the cheese on top.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

NOTE: Orange purée (see recipe below) can be substituted for the white puree.

Orange puree:

1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and rough-chopped

3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks

2 to 3 tablespoons water

In a medium pot, cover sweet potatoes and carrots with cold water and boil for about 20 minutes until potatoes, and especially carrots, are very tender. If the carrots aren’t thoroughly cooked, they’ll leave telltale little nuggets of vegetable, which will reveal their presence (a gigantic no-no for the sneaky chef).

Drain the potatoes and carrots and put them in the food processor with two tablespoons of water. Puree on high until smooth; no pieces of carrots or potatoes should remain. Stop occasionally to push the contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, use the third tablespoon of water to make a smooth purée, but the less water the better.

This makes about 2 cups of purée.

Categories: Life and Arts

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