Sneaky Desserts with Vegetables
What’s the secret ingredient? Shh. No one will guess these sweet (and delicious!) treats feature spinach, beets, and carrots.
Article, recipes, and photos by Ashley Strickland Freeman
Getting the kids (or the adults) in your house to eat their vegetables isn’t always easy. Thankfully, my 5-year-old son is a pretty good eater for the most part, but we are currently going through the “no green things” phase. No matter how hard I try to disguise or get rid of a piece of parsley, scallion, or other Kermit-colored offender, he seems to find the one spec I missed and declare the food inedible. Does this sound familiar? Well, I have a trick up my sleeve that helps get some veggies into his little 45-pound body, and I bet it’ll work at your house too.
Everyone loves desserts, right? My trick is to sneak pureed vegetables into sweet treats, disguising them with traditional dessert flavors that take center stage.
Vegetable desserts, you ask? If my little guy were to see sauteed spinach, cooked beets, or steamed carrots on his dinner plate, he wouldn’t touch them. But when I make my Chocolate Beet Cake, Key Lime-Spinach Cupcakes, and Soft Orange-Glazed Carrot Cookies, he gobbles them all up.
How to make healthy desserts for kids
The key to hiding vegetables in healthy-ish desserts for kids is to cook and then puree them as finely as possible. That way, no chunks or bits will be noticeable when you mix them with other ingredients in the recipe. Just a standard food processor or blender with a puree setting should do the trick — no fancy equipment required here.
While traditional desserts aren’t exactly health food, if your little ones are going to have a cupcake or cookie anyway, why not add some otherwise “no thank you” vegetables in there while you’re at it? The results are surprisingly delicious — and only you will be the wiser.
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Beets, the secret to extra-moist cake
The first of my vegetable dessert recipes is especially great for chocolate lovers. I like to hide pureed cooked beets in a sheet cake that tastes just like devil’s food. The dark cocoa will cover up the beet flavor and those beets will add extra moisture for a super-rich and tender chocolate cake recipe.
You can find pre-cooked beets in the refrigerated produce section of the supermarket, and I use two packages (often on sale as a two-for-one) to yield 2 cups of puree. Alternatively, you can roast and peel fresh beets or buy canned cooked beets — just be sure there isn’t any added vinegar or sugar. We’re aiming for just plain ‘ole beets here.
To keep the sugar content on the lower side, I like to dust the top of the cake with a little powdered sugar, using a doily to make a pretty design.
Spinach for vibrant, healthier cupcakes
Cupcakes have always been a favorite dessert — for me as a child and now to share with my little guy. They are the perfect handheld treat, just enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. My Key Lime-Spinach Cupcakes are a quintessential sneaky vegetable dessert recipe. The emerald green cake tricks my son into thinking the color is from the fresh lime juice and lime zest I use for flavoring, not from the pureed spinach that I blend into the batter. Topped with a lime-infused cream cheese frosting, these treats are definitely a hit at our house. Just as with the Chocolate Beet Cake, you’ll want to be sure to puree the spinach until it almost resembles a paste so that it blends into the cake batter without being detected.
Carrots for cookies with a healthy glow
Last but not least in the healthy vegetable desserts round-up are my Soft Orange-Glazed Carrot Cookies. You've tried carrot cake, with flecks of shredded carrot. These get their sunny shade from cooked and pureed carrots. Kissed with a glossy orange glaze, they’re great to eat on their own or to sandwich frozen yogurt or ice cream for a frosty treat.
When cooking the carrots for this vegetable dessert, make sure to simmer them until they are fork-tender — that way they’ll blend into a smooth puree that will mix easily into the cookie batter. When making the cookies, keep in mind that the dough is looser than typical cookie dough. The pureed carrots keep the cookies soft and almost cake-like, and remind me of Southern tea cakes.
More ideas for sneaky veggie desserts
If you ever made baby food for your kids, the pureeing step for these recipes may remind you of that — it certainly did for me. It’s a great tool I use to whip up healthy desserts for the whole family. Besides the three recipes I’ve shared, you can also try sneaking veggies into these other treats:
Sweet potato or butternut squash cupcakes or cheesecake
Avocado in chocolate pudding or mousse
Zucchini in chocolate chip cookies or zucchini brownies
Black beans in brownies
Chickpeas in blondies
Have I missed any ways you like to make desserts with vegetables? Just tag @yummly on Instagram or Facebook to share your ideas.
Another approach to healthier desserts
For a different approach to healthy eating, read on to learn how an expert baker and cancer survivor decided to do gluten-free Paleo baking using nutritious almond flour instead of all-purpose flour, more natural sugars like maple syrup and dates instead of white sugar, and other swaps. Her dense chocolate cake will remind you of eating a truffle, and her Paleo Pecan Pie Squares will satisfy even the most serious craving for the Thanksgiving pie.