Guest contributor The Cooking Mama weighs in on kids and veggies!
It’s a hot and sometimes contentious topic, getting veggies into your children. Some moms are of the mind that hiding veggies is disrespectful and detrimental to the development of their palates. These moms argue that if a vegetable is prepared simply and deliciously, kids will enjoy it. That’s undoubtedly true for some lucky moms, but if the success of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious books is any indication, lots of moms have found that their kids just aren’t ever going to eat that broccoli, whether it’s roasted with olive oil, fresh herbs, and a sprinkle of sea salt, or slathered with radioactive-orange cheese. If making a bunch of purees and stirring them into everything you make isn’t your bag, I can share a few ideas that are totally palatable to young, developing tastebuds, while retaining all the nutrients and some of the flavor and texture of the vegetables used to make them.
When Goose was starting solids, she loved veggies even more than fruit. We followed the practice of baby-led weaning, so she happily and noisily sucked and gnawed on stalks of steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus, and green beans to her little heart’s content. As her pincer grasp developed, she enjoyed peas and was absolutely crazy about black beans. I was so pleased, and maybe even a little braggy about my excellent little eater (because clearly my wonderful parenting was responsible, and not her naturally adventurous disposition). There was nothing Goose wouldn’t try. And then came toddlerhood. Suddenly the foods she once gobbled down were being pitched to the floor in a fit of disgusted rage. Black beans? BLECH! Spinach? I haven’t seen YOU eating any spinach, mother! Over the course of a couple months, vegetables became all but verboten to Goose. As she was growing well and I thought it was a brief phase, I happily offered more fruit along with the veggies, but when I realized she wasn’t eating ANY vegetables apart from sweet potatoes and the very occasional carrot cube from her peas and carrots, I realized I might have to get sneaky.
Make eggs, not war
Kids, generally speaking, like eggs a whole lot. Goose would eat them at every meal if I let her. Luckily for us, eggs are a perfect vehicle for veggie delivery. A quick peek at one of my favorite sites for baby and kid food ideas, weelicious.com, led me to the idea of mini frittatas (link to recipe: http://weelicious.com/2008/06/18/baby-frittatas/). The site’s author makes hers with roasted red pepper and asparagus, which sounds delicious to me but perhaps not the best way to introduce the concept to a truly picky eater. My first try included a small handful of cooked peas and carrots, and a dash of salt and pepper. Goose loved them! Next up was finely chopped steamed broccoli and a little bit of shredded cheddar (Goose is sensitive to dairy but can handle a very little bit of cow’s milk cheese). Verdict?
Yum, and her little toddler pal loved them too. These cute little handheld frittatas could take on all kinds of veggies, I’d bet. Why not try chopped, well-drained frozen spinach, finely diced squash (roasted or steamed), or seeded and finely diced tomatoes? If you’re pressed for time or don’t feel like heating up the oven, just mix your cooked, chopped veggies right into scrambled eggs before they are fully set. And when in doubt, add cheese.
Fry them up
Goose was never all that impressed when I offered steamed cubes or the mashed flesh of a baked sweet potato, but when I started cutting them in sticks or rounds and roasting them with a little olive oil and a pinch of cinnamon? She was over the moon for them. Now we have sweet potato fries with lunch or dinner a couple times a week. Goose does a dance in her highchair when she sees them and I feel good serving them because sweet potatoes are absolutely loaded with vitamins and fiber. And remember, good old Russet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and fiber too, so oven fries are a good guilt-free indulgence. Just leave the skins on and go easy on the oil! Some other veggies that might be better received in oven fry form are turnips, zucchini, carrots, or even green beans. There are plenty of recipes on the net, breaded and not, so do some experimenting.
If all else fails and your picky little one turns her nose up at everything, make some sweets. Mini muffins are an excellent way to hide vegetables – think finely shredded zucchini or carrot in a basic spice cake recipe – and once baked, the veggies are nearly indetectable. This time of year, canned pumpkin is plentiful (barring a shortage in your neck of the woods) so try adding a few spoonfuls to oatmeal or baking up some quick breads. I’ve even read about black bean brownies, which are supposedly really moist and yummy and not at all bean-y (though I admit I haven’t mustered up the courage to try them yet). Those mixed fruit and veggie squeezable pouches are getting rave reviews, too. And even if your little one isn’t getting as many vegetables as you’d like, remember that fruit, although higher in natural sugars, also packs a big nutritional punch when it comes to vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.
Getting your kids to eat the right foods can be really stressful and difficult, and I’ve definitely let myself get worried over it as much as any other mama. One obvious, but invaluable piece of advice I’ve heard from many of my mom friends is to relax, because kids will eat when they feel like it. There’s no use fighting them and making mealtime unpleasant for everyone. With that in mind, our new MO has been to just keep offering veggies every day (some hidden, some not) and make sure that Goose sees us eating and enjoying them too.