Yup, I said yummy and vegetables. For toddlers.
And I meant it. There’s a myth that children don’t like vegetables and beans. My husband, who’s Indian, finds this amusing: in India, both children and adults eat vegetables and lentils daily.
Maya, luckily for us, most days scarfs up vegetables, and we try to serve a rainbow of them to her over the course of a week. Color in plants is code for the minerals and vitamins inside, so variety is important. I thought this chart from the Greene Hill Coop was fascinating:
Persistence is key. When she refuses something, we basically ignore her little prima donna moment and serve whatever offended to her the next time as though that moment o’ pickiness never happened.
I’m also not a big fan of recent trendiness around disguising vegetables in other foods, as I really want to build Maya’s sense that food is connected to color, texture, etc., and that a variety of these is what we should eat. (But ask me in 3 years whether I’ve managed to stick to my guns on that one! If I had a really difficult kid, I’d do whatever it took to create a healthy relationship with food, including being sneaky. I know I’m not really in charge here.)
Maya has enough difficulty with chewing still that vegetables need to be cooked, but I’m a working mom, and so the preparations have to be fast and easy. Here’s some ideas for super SIMPLE (organic) veggie prep that we’ve had success with:
1) Boiled-soft: Just boiling in water on the stove — works for beets, corn, carrots, potato and broccoli. Maya loves golden beets in particular, which are sweet and dreamy when cooked. I’ll fish the stuff out, add a pat of butter and a few shakes of pepper, cool, slice and serve.
One tip for peas: to keep them bright green and fresh-tasting, even if frozen, “shock” them in ice water when they are done cooking. Conveniently, this cools them down quickly as well for serving. They are delicious served with a little melted butter and thin strips of fresh mint.
2) Microwaved: I had a very good moment sometime a few months back when I realized that I could take frozen vegetables, put them in a glass container in water, and pop that in the microwave for 2 minutes and they would come out the right texture. We do this with peas, green beans, corn, broccoli and other frozen vegetables. (Two health notes: We try to avoid packages of frozen vegetables that have added salt, which is not easy to do, and we look for organic that is not labeled “made in China,” due to concerns over the validity of certification, which I’ll post on in the future.)
Microwaving also works well for sweet potatoes, which Maya loves with butter, or even dreamier, mixed up with peanut or cashew butter, which tastes like orange heaven. Plain potatoes are good as well, which we’ll mix with green onion, sour cream and other classic toppings.
3) Cooked in milk: Cauliflower boiled in whole (organic, grassfed) milk is a treat even for adults. Carrots work nicely too, as do turnips and fennel. Add a pat of butter and some pepper as you like.
These can be cooked together or alone — for extra deliciousness, put it in a blender when cooked, including the milk. It whips into a truly delicious puree, which we like with steak and tastes like it’s from a fancy-pants restaurant.
4) Roasted: Red peppers are a big hit this way — we put on toast with goat cheese underneath, inside quesadillas with cheddar cheese, or on pasta.
To quick-roast peppers, slice them in half and de-seed, smooth on some oil and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast under the broiler until black, put in a bowl and cover with a plate to steam off the skin. Remove the skin. They will be soft, sweet and delicious.
Butternut squash is also great roasted. Just peel a squash and slice into chunks, toss with cinnamon, nutmeg, onions, raisins, apples and a touch of brown sugar, and roast for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.
And sweet potato fries are easy, with a touch of salt, rosemary and oil, cut into matchsticks and baked until soft. Green beans and asparagus are also both terrific tossed in a little salt, garlic and roasted. I’ll squeeze a lemon over them and call it a day.
5) Chopped into eggs: We find spinach, in particular, goes down well when chopped into scrambled eggs or an omelette. Peppers also work well, of course, and Maya will eat smoked salmon this way too (which is great for the Omega-3s — we use wild-caught, not farmed). We serve the eggs over rounds of fried polenta for extra interest, and add some cheese if she’s short on protein.
6) Cooked in “soup:” Saute onion and garlic with thyme, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, add whatever vegetables are in the fridge, rough chopped, and some (organic, low sodium) chicken or vegetable stock and simmer. Voila, it’s kid-friendly veg soup. For creaminess, you can throw in some milk or cream as well.
7) Stir-fried: Carrots, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, snap peas and others are all classic stir-fry options. We use a little soy sauce, add grated ginger and garlic, tofu, and serve over brown rice or noodles. Yum.
Kale and chard also fry up well, into chip-like flakes if you use enough oil. Just wash, carve out the spines, sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and a good amount of brown mustard seeds, and fry in generous amounts of grassfed, pastured butter (kids need good fats).
8) Covered in cheese or sauce: On the rare times when Maya does get all up on her high horse about some food, I’ll cover whatever it is in some pasta sauce and cheese and microwave for a few seconds, and then she’ll usually like it again. Cheese on broccoli is a big hit as well. Eggplant is best with tomato sauce, parmesan optional.
9) Steamed: Pretty self-explanatory. Works well with spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets and most other veggies, and helps to preserve all the nutrients, unlike boiling.
10) Raw (duh): Raw veggies she can eat, even at this stage, include jicama (cut in matchsticks), cucumbers, and “fruit” like tomato and avocado (which she loves generally, except for, I dunno, tonight and last night). We are not big salad people, but Maya will go for chunky ones like greek salad with gobs of onions, tomatoes and feta.
None of this is rocket science. But since I have been spotted more than once standing in front of the fridge dumbfounded, having a simple repertoire that covers breakfast, lunch and dinner means that Maya might get more of the vegetable kingdom. At least some of the time, she eats them up cluelessly, almost like she’s from a different country altogether.
Whenever I’m really desperate, I consult Mark Bittman’s jaw-droppingly helpful “101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less,” printed out and stuck on my fridge.
Do you have other preparations you’ve used for veggies that are delicious and easy?