Kids usually know that “nutritious” translates literally to “that pile of stuff on the side.” Vegetables often lose our focus because we’re spending our time on that main dish, when we suddenly realize we’re lacking the green. Salads are easy to prepare but may become a throwaway moment. Steam some broccoli, chop up some cucumbers, and you’ve got the vegetable you’re begging your kid to eat with a promise of something sweet later.
There are plenty of recipes that make vegetables a part of the main dish, but if you’re cooking chicken for dinner, and you don’t have time to put some energy into those veggies, turn to your oven instead. Start making vegetables that stand up to the protein or bean you’ve got as the star of the show.
Heat, fat, and salt can make most vegetables shine. The browned caramelized edges and natural flavor of many veggies sweeten with a jaunt in the oven. It may not be as healthy as steaming, but the bite and chew of a roasted veggie will turn even the pickiest eater. You’ve heard a lot about sneaking pureed veggies into kids’ foods. How much veggie actually gets in their tummies? A teaspoon? I wonder if we’re teaching kids that vegetables should only be heard and not seen, and certainly not tasted.
Squash, pumpkin, potato, turnip, carrots, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, eggplant and more can all do time in your oven after two minutes of prep. Almost no extra work and you’ve got a vegetable you can serve as a stand-alone dish.
My favorite vegetable to roast is cauliflower. Normally this anemic and soggy steamed vegetable hits the table with an unidentifiable orange cheese sauce. Slice the whole head up into ¼-inch slices, toss with olive oil, salt, and place them on a cookie sheet in a flat layer. Roast it at 375 degrees until you see a bit of brown; this takes 15 minutes or so. The heat brings out the sweet subtlety of the cauliflower. You’ll never go back to hiding them under gloppy cheese whiz.
Before my daughter Amaya ever had a Brussels sprout, she had already seen them in their legendary form on TV. “Ewwwww,” she said, when I informed her that the small green heads were gracing our dinner plates that evening. “Brussels sprouts are disgusting.”
“You’ve never even eaten one,” I said.
“But I don’t like them,” she whined.
Sitcom reality strikes again. But she knows the rules in our house: Every food gets a chance to be tasted. Brussels sprouts deserved their notoriously bad reputation in the ’80s. Boiled Brussels sprouts are definitely nasty. Instead, slice them in half and brown the cut edge in some oil. Extra liquid is unnecessary when trying to balance that tender but firm texture. Its bitter flavor turns into something satisfying, without sogginess.
At dinner, Amaya ate one. Then the next two went in without prompting. I actually heard myself saying, “You don’t have to eat anymore, Honey,” because I wasn’t planning to give up my share. This is when I learned that next time, I would have to make twice as much.
Establishing an expectation that your kid give foods a taste is another story to tell, but making sure that first taste they get is delicious is half the battle. It’s not fair to make kids eat their vegetables if the only reason to eat them is because “they’re good for you.”
Believe that vegetables are not a chore to eat and instead, a pleasure.
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple
4 cups Brussels sprouts
2 pieces bacon
2 tablespoons apple juice
Cut Brussels sprouts in half, lengthwise. For especially large sprouts, cut in thirds. Trim root end if necessary and peel off any yellowing outer leaves. (The sprout should be very green and smooth looking. I have used thawed frozen ones with acceptable results.)
Heat large cast iron or metal skillet over medium heat. Fry bacon until golden and drain on paper towel, leaving oil from bacon in pan.
With heat still on medium, place sprouts in pan, cut sides down, in one layer. If they don’t all fit, do this in two batches. Cook until cut edge is brown, about 3 minutes. Use tongs to flip them over and brown other side.
When all sprouts are flipped over, splash in apple juice and a few pinches of salt, then cover pan and let steam about 2 minutes, until sprouts cook through. Taste and salt more as necessary.
If desired, chop up bacon into 1/8-inch pieces and toss over sprouts. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: For a vegan option, brown sprouts in 2 tablespoons olive oil instead of using bacon.
Nutritional information unavailable.
Mariko Jackson blogs about family and food at: www.thelittlefoodie.com.