In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Hiding" vegetables vs. creative cooking

Who hasn't come across picky eaters, esp. when it comes to vegetables?
"But I don't like tomatoes/beets/squash..." -- who hasn't heard that 100 times?

And I'm not talking about just kids either. I've come across many adults who have a long list of dislikes and refuse to eat a lot of vegetables.
I fully understand allergies to nuts or wheat. I respect people who don't eat meat. I understand dietary restrictions and wanting to stay away from processed foods such as white sugar (I try not to use too much of it myself). I even get that mushrooms are an acquired taste, and for many it's a "texture-thing", but what's there not to like about vegetables?!? Gimme a break!

O.K., the curmudgeon in me is really showing now. I was brought up traveling and living in several cultures, and one of the lessons I learned (besides witnessing poverty and how much more simply many people of the world live) is that it's generally considered bad manners to refuse food cooked for you (unless you really have no other choice, such as that it makes you sick).

Don't worry, I won't make you eat all your vegetables when you come over to my house. I try to keep unusual ingredients as a "side option" to let guests add them as desired. In fact, I do have a real problem with parents pile the food on and command their kids to "eat everything", invariably creating a power struggle. The way I look at it, offer them the food, and if the kid won't eat it, then they'll just have to go without. No fuss! But no alternatives either, esp. no treats! Just let them wait until the next meal... (Digression: our kids have made that choice only rarely when they were small, and no, they did not starve!)

But adults, seriously, you could try a "wee bit" of something. Maybe the way I cook beets (roasted, with maple syrup) will surprise you. No big deal if you don't care for it, but thanks for giving them a try! (Digression: and for heaven's sake, why do some people cover everything on the plate with salt before even taking a bite? That sure makes me feel like they assume everything I've cooked is bland.)

Back to vegetables! I know moms sometimes resort to "hiding" secret ingredients. Did you know that you can "hide" cooked mashed veggies (even spinach) in brownies? Vegetable really do make moist and delicious cakes (just think carrot cake). However, to me that's not the same as truly having the family eating their vegetables (the sugar and chocolate, in my humble opinion, makes it a dessert experience rather than one of eating vegetables as part of a real meal). Still, may I point you to an excellent recipe for Devil's Chocolate cake with beets as a secret ingredient).

Instead of hiding vegetables, first try different ways of fixing vegetables. Many people, esp. small children, will prefer vegetables raw or minimally cooked. I've been surprised by how often kids will eat fresh peas and many other veggies raw, but hate them cooked (esp. over-cooked). Get them into a garden at harvest time, or take them to a farmer's market, and they might just munch away on veggies you never dreamed they'd eat -- one of our local farmer offers slices of "snow apples" (white turnips) -- and you'd be amazed by the surprised faces of his customers. Yummy!

Remember when baby/toddler ate most everything? It's only later that they started getting fussy. "It's a phase", everybody said. And it is, to some degree -- just keep on offering them a variety, rather than letting their finickiness dictate what you cook. Most people need to try something new several times before they warm up to it -- the mistake we cooks often make is that we give up too fast.

Here are a couple of tricks I use with my family:
Winter squashes: try them in soups (curry is great) or even as part of the sauce in Maccaroni and "Cheese" casserole -- see Alison's Lunch for her recipe here.

Greens -- fresh is best, but they can be blanched and frozen. Try simple stir-fry, additions to casseroles and soups, and as pesto-like sauces, such as these greek recipes.

Cabbage -- tired of same old cole slaw? I've got several posts on what to do with cabbage, including cabbage cooked in a whiskey sauce, and of course, "Bubble and Squeak".

Add the veggie-in-question to a proven favorite:
Pizza - will hide a multitude of veggies under the cheese... start with small quanties!
Mexican - for example, my daughter makes a dang-good quesadilla (Barbara Kingsolver style, see link on sidebar) with cooked sweet potatoes, chard, garlic, basil, cheese, and black beans.

The flavor of many root crops will be intensified when roasted -- often tasting so much better than boiled! I used to hate Brussels Sprouts (boiled until mushy in my youth) -- but now I've discovered AK-grown Brussels roasted with just a light coating of olive oil and salt --what a difference!! For delicious recipes, go to this post from last fall.

Lastly, try eating local and in season as much as possible. The CSA boxes and Farmer's Markets have helped our family eat better -- just being in touch with what's in season. Why eat asparagus when it's not in season -- it's expensive, travelled a LONG ways, and doesn't even taste that good. But when it's asparagus season, the price comes down and the flavor goes up -- you can't lose! Maybe even buy extra to blanch and freeze -- how about making a blended asparagus soup base to freeze for a rainy day: just add dairy when reheating (cream & parmesan) for a quick meal in middle of winter.

By the way, I also strongly suggest not keeping secrets.
I cook it, they try it, and if they ask, I'll tell them what's in it.
But then again, if I suspect scepticism, I may be "vague" when asked what's for dinner: I'll call it a mexican casserole rather than specifying that it contains curly kale... just a bit of armchair psychology: gain their trust & don't deceive.

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