That bag of frozen peas, carrots and beans has its place but your family may be wishing you'd leave it there. Here's some more uncommon choices that are packed with nutrients.
• NORI SEAWEED
Your child eats toilet paper but refuses their vegetables? Here's a great one for you: try seaweed, the kind that people use to wrap up sushi. It is paper thin, just like toilet paper, but it is so green it is almost black and so full of nutrients and antioxidants that many call it a "superfood". Some vitamins and minerals it contains include vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium and iron.
My baby will eat this seaweed when she's turning down everything else and she doesn't even like toilet paper. Evalynn, the one who used to eat toilet paper, still gobbles it up plain, although she now also loves going out for sushi. It stores in the closet and is an easy thing to throw in the lunch box.
A side story on toilet paper eating. Evalynn was toilet trained at 3 months. This was a problem in that she still liked to eat toilet paper. I decided it was time to teach a lesson. Instead of grabbing the toilet paper out of Evalynn's hand like I usually did, I just let her eat it while I watched. To my surprise she continued to eat it and eat it and eat it. As could be expected, her system did not like this, so she threw up, all over herself, the floor, me. Then she grabbed some more toilet paper and put it in her mouth. A lesson was learned, just not by Evalynn. From then on toilet paper was kept out of reach.
How to serve: Just break seaweed up into little pieces and put them on your baby's tray. As they get older they can rip the sheet themselves with their hands or teeth.
Where to find: Many supermarkets carry Nori Seaweed in their international section. I've found it at Wegman's, Safeway, our local health food store. and sometimes at Giant supermarket.
Recipes: For the rest of your family make your own little packages. Avocado, cucumber, bit of smoke salmon, get creative - smear it on and wrap it up.
Artichoke is another of those "superfoods" for all its nutrients and antioxidants. As soon as kids get their first front teeth, top or bottom, they can have fun scraping off the bottom (part connected to heart of artichoke) of the cooked leaves. The artichoke heart can be blended or mashed for babies with no teeth. You can eat the artichoke stem too though part of it may be stringy.
How to prepare: I do it really simply. I chop of the very tip of the stem, which is usually dried out, and quite a bit off the top of the artichoke (opposite the stem), to get off the prickles. You only eat the heart, stem and the bottom most part of the leaf anyway. Then I stick the artichoke in the steamer for 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size of the artichoke. When it is ready I cut it in half and scoop out the prickly part inside the heart. Let it cool and it is ready to serve.
Marinated artichoke hearts are another delicious way to eat artichokes. I rinse them off before giving them to the children.
Recipe: Simple artichoke dip. Combine marinated artichoke hearts, real mayonnaise and parmesan cheese in a dish that can go in the oven. Heat it up until the cheese melts.
Where to find: You can find fresh artichokes in the produce section of most supermarkets. Marinated artichoke hearts are usually with jarred food.
This one's in the bag. Usual bar snack food in Japan, edamame is also getting quite popular now in the US and Canada. This unprocessed soy bean is both a green and good source of protein. Yummy and super easy to have on hand in your freezer. Kids enjoy popping the beans out of their pods into their mouths. For babies, take off the pod and fine skin and either blend, smush or split bean depending on baby's eating stage.
Where to find. You can buy edamame in most freezer sections of supermarkets. Buy it frozen (as opposed to precooked) and in the shell (as opposed to pre-shelled) for far superior taste. Organic doesn't usually cost more so buy it if you can.
How to prepare. Easier than pie. Just boil water, salt the water if you like, and boil edamami for ~3 minutes.
Broccolini is baby broccoli. It is sweeter, milder and more tender than regular broccoli, but with all the same great nutritional benefits. An added plus is that the stems are thinner and don't need to be peeled so it's easy to prepare.
Where to find. Look in the produce department of your supermarket. I've found it in super Target and Wegmans.
How to prepare. My favourite way is a combination of stir frying and steaming. It maximizes nutrient retention, uses less oil then full stir frying, and is fairly quick to prepare. Cut the stem into small pieces separate from the crowns. Put a pinch of salt into a 1/4 cup of water. Heat up a small bit of vegetable oil in a skillet until shimmering. Carefully toss in stems. A minute later toss in the crowns stirring once. A minute or two later stir again and pour in the lightly salted water and cover. Let steam until bright green. Take off lid until water is evaporated. If not tender enough you can either add more water or simply re-cover off stove.
This is also a great way to prepare broccoli, however for broccoli the stems need to be peeled first and cooked on their own for a little longer.
• SPAGHETTI SQUASH
Are you ready to eat spaghetti? If you and your kids like spaghetti and meat sauce then spaghetti squash's ready for you! This hard winter squash can be substituted for the noodles and it feels just like eating real spaghetti and tastes even better. It even comes with its own bowl if you decide to serve in the skin for older kids and adults.
If you're not a meat sauce person other sauces work too. We just enjoyed a green curry Thai chicken "pasta" tonight using some leftover scooped out squash "noodles".
Unfortunately this probably won't work for the children who will only eat plain noodles. Although spaghetti squash really accentuates the flavour of many dishes, on its own, I find it just doesn't cut it. If you have one of those no sauce kids, don't despair, it usually is just a phase. ("This too shall pass" is one of the best phrases to remember in parenthood!) Besides, here's another trick. Substitute Barilla Plus noodles which contain oats, barley, flaxseeds, lentils, chickpeas and spelt in their interesting flour mix. It has more nutrients and protein yet somehow tastes exactly like plain, NOT whole wheat, noodles.
How to prepare: Stab spaghetti squash multiple times with sharp knife. Heat in 350 degree oven until it is soft enough for you to cut in half, approximately ~1/2 hour. Cut in half and scoop out the seeds and goopy stuff, like you would a pumpkin on Halloween. Spray with canola or vegetable oil cooking spray. Place squash open face down on parchment paper in a pan. Cook until squash "noodles" can be easily pulled up with a fork. They should be tender but not mushy. ~45 minutes. For adults and older kids, fill the center with the meat sauce (or whatever other sauce you are using.) While you eat, you pull up the squash noodles, until all you are left with is the thin outer skin. For babies and toddlers, (or fussy eaters you want to fool), you can pull up the squash "noodles" with a fork and mix them in with the sauce in an appropriate serving bowl.
• BEET GREENS
If you're making beets don't discard the greens, they can be super tasty and healthy. Softer and milder than many other dark leafy greens they cook up quickly.
How to Prepare. My favorite way to prepare beet greens is to cook them over the stove with some butter, shallots, and fresh squeezed lemon.
Do you have other unusual vegetables that your kids enjoy? If you do, please join the blog or drop me an email at email@example.com
More vegetable eating strategies to come in Part 2 – hide and seek
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PART 2 - HIDE AND SEEK
Soups can be a great source of vegetables either on their own or used to flavor and add nutrition to rice and couscous. However, if you aren't making your own soup be sure to read the labels. Many soups in the supermarket are not actually very healthy; you might have to look in the organic section of some supermarkets to find the ones that are.
Butternut and pear squash soup base recipe:
In a heavy big pot, cook the chopped white of 3 leaks and 1 clove garlic in 3 tablespoons of butter until translucent. Toss in 1 large butternut squash chopped into piece. Buying pre-cut squash saves a lot of effort but is more expensive and doesn't keep long so you need to make the soup soon after purchase. Toss in 3 cut up pears, preferably organic. I don't bother peeling. Add a few tablespoons of unsweetened organic apple sauce. Add a pinch of rosemary, a bunch of fresh parsley and a teaspoon of salt. Pour in 4 cups of organic chicken broth or vegetable broth and simmer for one hour. Cool and blend until smooth and creamy.
The great thing about soups is you don't have to be accurate with the ingredients or the amounts to make them still taste great. You can substitute apples for pears, onion for leaks (but not too many because onions are stronger), and even potatoes for butternut squash. Also feel free to toss in some other vegetables you have in your fridge and make your own creation.
For a quick soup lunch from the cupboard we like Amy's organic lentils soup and Wolfgang Puck's organic chicken and wild rice soup. We also keep on hand some organic chicken broth (Swanson's are favorite but most organic broths will do) and some butternut squash soup (Pacific's our favorite.)
Most kids like pasta. Try to get them on whole grain noodles from the start or try barilla plus. Barilla plus noodles contain lentils among other healthy stuff and side by side my picky taster (husband) couldn't tell the difference from non-whole grain pasta. If you're preparing a dish with pesto, tomato, or meat sauce, you can also hide some vegetables in a puree.
FOUR FAVORITE HIDING RECIPES:
1. Pancakes or waffles with shredded zucchini and carrots. I learned this one from my mom's group where all the kids love it. Take your favorite pancake or waffle recipe or mix and simply add a half cup each of shredded carrots and zucchini. It's like carrot cake or zucchini bread; you get added moisture and goodness but it feels like desert. I also like to slice some overripe banana into the mixture.
2. Spinach smoothie. Throw in a blender a frozen banana, a mix of frozen berries or other favorite fruit like peaches and apricots, a big handful of spinach, some yogurt, a splash of vanilla and either soy, rice or cow milk and you've got yourself a delicious smoothie. You don't taste the spinach. If you are worried about the color, use some dark fruit like blueberries and cherries and add the spinach slowly, stopping before it looks green. Or you can just pretend it's St. Patty's day and you've added the food color for fun!
3. Butternut squash Israeli couscous. Israeli couscous, also called giant couscous, is much bigger than regular couscous. We buy it at Wegman's but have seen it occasionally at other supermarkets. Follow the package directions for making the Israeli couscous, simply substitute butternut squash soup for the water. The one difference is you must stir the couscous occasionally while cooking or the bottom will stick to the pot. The result is rich orange couscous full of flavor.
4. Chicken soup Bamboo or Forbidden rice Super Target sells a naturally green rice called bamboo rice. Forbidden rice found at Wegmen's is purple. We follow the recipe simply substituting organic chicken broth for the water. So good. You can also do this with other wild and wholegrain rice.
Do you have a favorite "hiding" vegetable or mix? If you do, please join the blog.
More vegetable eating strategies to come in Part 3 – Preparation, presentation, negotiation
For Cara'boutYou Books(TM) for children visit www.caraaboutyou.com