sweet potato brownies and milk

You know what food trend I’ve never fully understood? The one about the hidden vegetables. The puree-something-your-kids-won’t-eat-and-bury-it-in-brownies! Add spinach to chocolate cake! Sneak cauliflower in pasta! Do whatever you can to trick them into eating nutrition!

I mean, I think I kind of understand it, or at least the premise of it: if you can add good-for-you foods to what someone normally eats without them noticing, then you get them to eat what they should while also eating what they want. Everybody wins! OK. But the problem is your kids still don’t like vegetables; they like chocolate cake, a chocolate cake that’s lying to them. Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t have kids? You can feel free to tell me what I’m missing.

brownies in pan

Anyway, that said, you’ll see the irony in the recipe I’m about to give you, for what else but sweet potato brownies. Yes, they’re exactly like those crazy sneaky recipes I don’t understand. Yes, they use a pureed vegetable in the middle of a normal dessert. But, I made exception for them and baked them for two reasons: 1) The recipe already called for whole wheat pastry flour, and I like using whole wheat pastry flour in baking, and 2) I was curious, I’ll admit it, to see what a pureed vegetable could add to a chocolate brownie.

(Plus, bonus reason! I had a lone sweet potato in the fridge, begging to be used.)

brownies in pan

Here is what I found: like beets, pureed sweet potatoes add a moist texture to the brownies that makes them feel more fudgy. The flavor is slightly different than regular brownies, with hints of that sort of spiced sweet potato goodness that reminds me of fall, a season I could really go for right about now.

brownie on plate

And it turns out, at least when it comes to these brownies, that hiding vegetables in dessert can be kind of clever—who knew?—and so maybe being sneaky isn’t so bad after all.





Sweet Potato Brownies
Adapted from Body + Soul, April 2009

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (I use aluminum-free)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic cane sugar
2/3 cup sweet-potato puree (or one skinned, boiled sweet potato, pureed)
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Remove pan from heat, and stir in cocoa. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in sugar and sweet-potato puree, then egg.

Add vanilla to cocoa mixture. Then add flour mixture to cocoa mixture and stir until no traces of flour remain. Spoon into prepared pan; smooth the top. Bake until surface of brownies looks barely dry and an inserted knife comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 57 Comments

  1. Angela@spinachtiger

    Only yesterday I was thinking about this and I intend to do a post. I do cook for little boys 2 1/2 year old twins every day. They know what a real vegetable is. They love them, and they love roisted sweet potato slices with olive oil and salt. They call them “cookies.” Conversely, or additionally, baking with added fresh whole foods is a great idea to bring nutrition to sweets. But, I’m old fashioned and think kids can live on very few sweets and should only eat the ones you make from scratch without all the junk in them. The idea of the sweet potatoes brownies made from scratch is a great recipe, much better than what you get in those boxes. If you keep feeding kids chocolate cake, they will never get a savory sweet tooth or enjoy vegetables. But we are wired (from God) to like fresh, whole foods. That’s natural for humans. Okay, see you hit a big “opinion” nerve. :)

      1. Shannalee

        Hi Ju! I’m not Angela, but I think what she was saying is that God made fresh, whole foods (as in, made the trees that bear the fruit) and made us, so we were made to enjoy them. Hope that helps!

  2. Jenny

    My kids don’t get sweets very often, but even still I have the cookbook whichof you speak. :-) I think the idea is to hide veggies AND serve veggies, but to me it’s more of a “pediasure” mentality – let kids eat what they want and cover the bases so you don’t feel like a bad parent. It is very easy to feel like a bad parent. I agree with Angela – kids can and DO love veggies – they just need to be “helped” occasionally. It doesn’t hurt if the veggies are prepared well. Because, honestly, who would eat canned peas on purpose?

    Brownies with sweet potatoes? Sounds delicious.

  3. kate

    I’m not a fan of this, and it’s because I think that children’s food is so heavily dumbed down that it’s like society thinks they have no taste buds at all. Or worse yet, like they shouldn’t be exposed to good, wholesome foods that are prepared well and taste wonderful. But it’s out there, and goes deep into so many layers and reasons why that it’s difficult to get anyone to look at the honest truth, and that is that good food just doesn’t need much at all, really beyond an honest preparation. There should never be deceit woven into their eating.

  4. Lisa (newRDcook)

    I think we should capitalize on opportunities to make foods more wholesome – such as adding produce in baked goods. So rather than just consuming fat and sugar, we have healthy whole grains and vitamins and minerals. I like adding squash and bananas to muffins and using 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 all purpose – the results are moist and tasty. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Cate

    I think it’s great to teach kids to like vegetables on their own, without hiding them in dessert. But what’s the harm in doing that AND making these beautiful brownies? I’m excited to try them!

  6. Celeste

    I don’t have kids but I have a husband who prefers other things to vegetables and sadly yes, I have sneaked in a veggie or two into things.
    On the other hand, I have found a recipe for brownies that uses black beans and no flour.
    Tried it out on my sister and her friends who absolutely loved them. I have to say this is the best recipe I have come across for moist brownies. I will have to try the sweet potato recipe.

  7. Michele

    I love that I have gotten to sample everything in your posts lately. I feel so special. I can’t decide if these brownies, the meatloaf sandwich, or the olive oil granola is my favorite.

  8. Tara

    I’ve never understood that trend either! But I love adding veggies to baked stuff because. . . it’s so good! (I mean — zucchini bread!) Can’t wait to try these.

  9. Amanda Mae

    mmmmmm… that looks delicious! and rich! I love unique recipes, the ones with hidden black beans or sweet potatoes!
    thanks for sharing, I will give her a try! and try to restrain myself from eating the whole pan… I have a weakness for chocolate.

  10. Rebecca

    I just tried the vegan chocolate cake recipe over at Joy the Baker’s site, which uses avocado instead of butter and eggs. I think these recipes are great options, especially for dietary needs. It’s a good practice to try to make baked goods healthier, like using applesauce or lowfat sour cream/yogurt in place of some of the butter and eggs, and using at least some whole wheat flour or spelt flour.

    However, I also agree that you need to cultivate a healthy appreciation for vegetables in many forms. I’ve read some research lately on kids’ tastebuds and how they naturally start out more attuned to the sweet tastes and they need to develop the appreciation for the savory and bitter. Getting them used to variety and healthy eating at a young age will expand their palate and make for good life patterns.

  11. Jacqui

    i love brownies, and these sound really, really good! this post reminds me of how i’m always trying to get murdo to eat his vegetables. unfortunately, the only way i’d get him to eat a sweet potato is to add bacon to it.

  12. ingrid

    I’m very lucky. I have don’t have to sneak in veggies and fruits for my children to eat them. They LOVE them and ask for them. I’m the picky one! :) I do like sweet potatoes so no need for sneaky brownies. :)
    ~ingrid

  13. Jacqui

    Curiosity usually lures me in too! Although I hope one day when I have kids, they will enjoy eating veggies, weather in their brownies or not. These brownies look nice and fudgy, yum!

  14. Shannalee

    Angela, I pretty much agree with everything you wrote here. I think it’s ideal that kids would cultivate tastes for vegetables and only have homemade sweets. That is excellent. Look forward to your post on this!

    Jenny, Ha! I wondered if I was being obvious. :) Sounds like you’ve reached a good agreement for your family – and I appreciate what you said about it being easy to think you’re a bad parent (I can tell you’re not, btw) because that’s kind of human with everything. Glad you said that.

    Tiina, You are so sweet. It’s all the new camera. Thank you!

    Kate, Right. I am with you, both about the deceit issue and about the bad foods for kids. In this particular case, I genuinely liked the brownies, and not because of some supposed health benefit of sneaking a sweet potato inside. Like what Angela said above, this is a better alternative to a regular brownie. Or at least that’s what I think now.

    Ashley, Yeah! Can’t wait to hear what you think!

    Lisa, Good tips and thanks for the feedback!

    Kristi, Great! Hope so!

    Cate, Both and. I love it.

    Celeste, Sometimes I wonder why people don’t like vegetables. Is it a lack of exposure? A preconception? A genetic thing? It’s fascinating. Glad there are ways around it, for kids and husbands alike, not to mention the rest of us!

    Michele, I am so so so happy you liked everything! Thanks for the encouragement. I’d give you what I make anytime.

    Tara, MMm zucchini bread! you are right!

    Amanda, Well, you are eating for two now. If you want the whole pan, I won’t judge!

    Rebecca, Avocado would be interesting, what with its creamy texture. Great option! And thanks for that info on kids’ tastebuds. That is fascinating and something I’d like to read more about. I hated most vegetables until recently, mostly because I didn’t eat them when I was young, you know?

    Jacqui, Murdo is blessed to have you and your vegetable-loving ways. You guys are adorable!

    Chelsea, I almost always feel the same way.

    Ingrid, That’s fantastic! (What’s your kids’ secret??)

    TJ, Ha! Another husband story – well, it’s good he has you!

    Jacqui, Right? I love trying new things. And I totally agree with you. I hope my future kids will be like that, too!

  15. Deliciously Organic

    I totally agree with you! Why can’t we just teach our kids to eat vegetables and let them aquire a taste for them? I read that it can take 10x of being introduced to a new food before a kid will eat it. I tried that with my kids and it totally works. I kept putting it on their plate and after a while they realized they actually liked it! Now they will eat anything and that wasn’t happening 2 years ago!

    The brownies look really good and I can see how the sweet potato makes them extra creamy. Will have to give it a try!

  16. Megan Gordon

    Tee hee hee. This made me smile because I just made a cake with shredded butternut squash in it. I thought it was a little gimmiky at first too, but it turned out amazing. And growing up, my mom always made our chocolate birthday cakes with one shredded white potato. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  17. jessiev

    yum. i love veggies in things, so this sounds fantastic! our 7yo daughter LOVEs veggies, esp chick peas, peas, asparagus, brussel sprouts, etc. i never have to hide things, but we always try to figure out how to ADD them! :)

  18. Shannalee

    Deliciously Organic, That is awesome to hear! So how did you get your kids to try it when you put it on their plates, that is the question!? It’s so encouraging to know if I keep giving something a chance, there’s a chance I will like it!

    Sue, Thanks – hope you get to try these!

    Allison, Ha! Fantastic!

    Megan, A shredded white potato!? That is one of the most interesting things I have heard. And yessss about your using squash in the cake – we are so on the same page!

    JessieV, Wow, that’s great – did she just always like them, or did you have to coax her into it?

    Tim, I do! I guess because my mom always did (does?) – but it’s not necessary, I know.

  19. Niki

    Wow, I’ve never heard of these, so I am definitely intrigued, but please please please, don’t make black bean brownies. Made them. Hated them.
    And I love black beans and hiding veggies in dessert. Just not those!!!

  20. Shannalee

    Niki, Ha! I have been highly skeptical of black bean brownies, but so many people say they’re good, there must be a good version, right? Don’t worry – I’m not planning to do it soon.

  21. Liz

    That is a fabulous idea!

    It’s funny, because my friend’s fiance HATES vegetables. And every so often we attempt this kind of trickery with him. For instance, I made a cauliflower macaroni and cheese one night and he ate it up and loved it! Really, he hates the idea of vegetables, not the taste of them.

    I remember not liking vegetables as a kid because all we had was steamed broccoli and steamed string beans and I’m pretty sure I was just sick of them by the time I hit eight years old. I think variety and flavor are important without completely concealing the vegetables (like tons of butter and cheese that negates the healthy factors). But I don’t have kids, so maybe this is unrealistic. It is, however, how I hope to approach this issue when I do have children. (If you saw my friend’s fiance’s diet, though, you would agree that I do have experience in child-like eating habits.)

  22. Elizabeth @ Dapper Paper

    So, i keep seeing black bean brownies and i think they scare me even more than these! I mean, people make sweet potato pie, but maybe that’s just here in the south? do ya’ll eat sweet potato pie? if not, it probably sounds SO southern!

    I have a cookbook, Cook Yourself Thin and I have tried their vanilla cupcakes made with zucchini, chocolate brownies with butternut squash and have planned to make their Mint Chocolate cupcakes with sweet potato!
    and i love Elie Krieger and have made her mac and cheese with butternut squash and it was GREAT!

    i’m all for fittin in the fruits and veg when it TASTE good! :) but it better taste good!

  23. Jenny

    I’m all for the honesty with kids and foods – sneaking around is a great way to engender resentment. But if something like a sweet potato has a logical reason to be snuck in, I’m all for it. In this case, I’m sure it tenderized and moisturized the brownies and you didn’t waste it. That’s reason enough. But I’m with the other commenters who are on the side of teaching the kids about eating healthy (and eating healthy yourself as a good example).

  24. Shannalee

    Jessica, Ha! That’s funny – I guess kids ARE smart! you’re right!

    Liz, I loved your comment – it’s awesome how many people are coming out with similar stories. It’s nice that vegetable-haters have such good friends to help them. :)

    Elizabeth, I think I would really like the south. I mean, besides how nice everyone is, you have sweet potato pie!? I’m sold.

    Jenny, Yes. I feel like that is the same conclusion I came to too – if the veg has a purpose, then that’s diff than just throwing it in there for good luck, ha!

  25. Jenny

    I just re-read the comment I typed, and sounds much different than my intent. :-) I meant that hiding veggies seemed to me like a pediasure mentality – and I so dislike those commercials that glibly suggest a child should decide his or her nutritional needs based on what they “will” or “won’t” eat. Just to clarify, that is not the case in our house. I just love it when our 3 year old wants to eat nothing but the veggies at dinner, (asparagus? broccoli? I can’t keep him away) but I still do make him eat his chicken. :-)

  26. Shannalee

    Thanks, Heather! I am *learning* to love using vegetables in every way possible too, which is maybe what is so intriguing to me about this whole topic anyway!

    Jenny, Ha! Well I thought your original comment sounded very filled with grace and reasonable, but thanks for the clarification. That’s kind of awesome about your three-year-old WANTING vegetables. I wonder why I never went through a stage like that? ha!

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  30. Kelly

    You know I have twin boys 8 years old and One of them likes vegies and the other hates them all. I would love to try this book not to trick them but to get the nutrition into him since he won’t eat them. As long as they still taste ok with the hidden ingredients. But I still put vegies on his plate every night and he has to try them everytime. I hope that he starts to like them more because he keeps trying. He is starting to try more things lately. But in the mean time if I have hidden vegies in his food and he does not notice than thats great because he is getting the nutrition.

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  36. mel

    Thank you very much for sharing this recipe. Some children do not like veggies. Period. Everyday, we go through the same routine, try this, eat that and with complete resistance to vegetables. No all children are passive and love everything that Mom and Dad eat. I’m curious, should I force and shove things done my child’s throat that he doesn’t want to eat??? That’s really going to give him an appreciation for good food!!! People’s self righteous attitudes are so bothersome on the comment’s sections.

    So with that being said, I believe it is better to sneak/hide nutritious food into less desirable things like brownies or muffins in order for my 3 year old to get proper nutrition. No??

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Hi Mel, I can only imagine the frustrations of kids and eating, ha! : ) I think people have strong opinions on these topics because, bottom line, people want to do what’s best for their kids. We all get that… and most people do the best they can with what they know. When it comes to children, like when it comes to anyone, baby steps are okay. : ) If hiding things in brownies is the best way to give a kid good vegetables, why not. I will also say, though, that I love the idea to make kids taste everything (i.e., “No, you don’t have to eat broccoli for dinner ever, but you do always have to try a bite.”). The ultimate goal is always to help kids, and ourselves, and that’s a good thing to keep in mind. Thanks for your comment!

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