We may try to get the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but most of us fall short. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91% of Americans do not eat enough veggies and 87% aren’t getting enough fruit. An easy way to rectify this—and cut calories and fat at the same time—is to add my “sneaky” vegetable and fruit blends to your food. Don’t worry—your food still will be delicious, maybe even more so!
These blends can replace one-third to one-half the calories and fat in recipes, so you can lose weight (or stay trim) and continue to eat foods you love. Also, the blends are high in fiber, which helps you feel satisfied longer. A study by Pennsylvania State University researchers found that adults who were given meals made with vegetable purées ate 350 fewer calories a day and reported feeling as full as those who ate the same meals without the vegetables.
Here are recipes for two delicious American favorites made much healthier with my sneaky blends…
SINGLE-SERVE MAC AND CHEESE
This dish may seem decadent, but it has only 302 calories per serving and it is rich in fiber with six grams per serving.
- ¾ cup cooked whole-grain rotini pasta
- ⅓ cup Carrot–Sweet Potato Blend
- 1 egg white
- ⅛ teaspoon mustard powder
- ½ ounce goat cheese, crumbled (if you don’t like goat cheese, you can double up on the Cheddar and Parmesan)
- 1 Tablespoon low-fat milk
- 1 heaping Tablespoon grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- ½ cup chopped cauliflower florets
- Pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the Parmesan. Pour into an ovenproof bowl, sprinkle the Parmesan over the top, and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbly.
Makes one serving.
NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S (TURKEY) MEAT LOAF
Instead of the refined, nutrient-devoid white bread crumbs in your grandmother’s meat loaf, this recipe uses oats and flaxseed instead, which deliver a hearty dose of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3s. The Black Bean–Blueberry–Baby Kale Blend gives the meat loaf moisture, adds another hit of nutrition and allows you to use half as much meat as needed for most recipes. There are 227 calories and four grams of fiber in a one-and-a-half-inch-thick slice.
- ½ cup Black Bean–Blueberry–Baby Kale Blend (see recipe below)
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
- ½ cup oats, finely ground
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound lean ground turkey breast
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 3 Tablespoons ketchup (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients and mix well with the back of a fork. Mix in the turkey. Transfer to a standard-sized loaf pan that’s been misted with cooking spray, and top with the ketchup, if using. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.
Makes six servings.
THE SNEAKY CHEF VEGETABLE AND FRUIT BLENDS
These blends keep for three days in the refrigerator and three months in the freezer. I like to freeze them in half-cup quantities so that I thaw only what I need.
CARROT—SWEET POTATO BLEND
This blend has a creamy texture and deliciously sweet flavor. Carrots are high in beta-carotene and other carotenoids—antioxidants that promote eye health and are protective against many cancers. Sweet potatoes also are loaded with beta-carotene, plus fiber, B vitamins and potassium. Unlike white potatoes, which cause a sugar spike and subsequent crash, which increases hunger, sweet potatoes stabilize blood sugar levels. Orange vegetables also are protective against heart disease.
In addition to the Mac and Cheese, here are a variety of ways you can use this blend to boost nutrition and replace calories and fat in foods you eat every day…
- Stir into soups or any red sauces, such as marinara, to add creaminess (without the cream).
- Use to replace half the fat and sugar in baked goods such as muffins and in breakfast favorites such as pancakes and waffles.
- Mix into salad dressings, brown gravies and condiments, such as ketchup and mustard.
- Mix into nut butters and store-bought hummus.
- Use in prepared baked beans.
For this recipe, don’t drive yourself crazy dicing the veggies—a rough chop is fine. Just try to make them about the same size so that they cook evenly. Or use frozen diced sweet potatoes, available in many markets. Pick up some frozen carrots, too. Then you can skip the steaming and simply flash-thaw them by pouring hot water over both veggies, and go directly to the blending step. You will need about four cups of frozen chopped sweet potatoes and three cups of frozen chopped carrots.
- 2 large sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- Filtered water
Place a steamer basket into a large pot, pour in a few inches of tap water (make sure that the water is below the bottom of the basket) and set it over high heat. Add the sweet potatoes and carrots and steam, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until fork-tender. In a blender or food processor, blend the veggies with two to three tablespoons of filtered water until smooth, adding more water as necessary.
Makes about four-and-a-half cups.
BLACK BEAN—BLUEBERRY—BABY KALE BLEND
This blend combines three nutrition powerhouses. High in fiber and protein, black beans are particularly satisfying and have been shown to reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer. Blueberries are one of the fruits highest in antioxidants. Kale is high in fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin C and many other antioxidants. It has heart-protective and anticancer properties.
In addition to using this blend in the Turkey Meat Loaf recipe (see above), use it to…
- Replace half the fat and sugar in chocolaty baked goods, such as brownies and chocolate cake.
- Mix into meat dishes, such as tacos and burgers.
- Add to a smoothie or a breakfast shake.
If you prefer dried beans, feel free to sub them in (they will need to be soaked overnight and cooked). And if you don’t love kale, swap in fresh baby spinach or your favorite dark leafy green.
- 4 cups baby kale
- 2 cups frozen blueberries, ideally wild (I prefer frozen because the berries tend to be cheaper and are available year-round. Wild blueberries contain more antioxidants.)
- 2 15-ounce cans (BPA-free) black beans, drained and rinsed
- Filtered water
Place the kale into a high-powered blender or food processor, and pulse a few times. Rinse the blueberries in cold water to thaw them. Add the berries and the beans to the blender, along with one to two tablespoons of filtered water, and purée until smooth.
Makes four cups.