Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spread Vegetable Love: Eat Veggies Plain or with "the Flavor"

How to get kids, and their parents, to eat vegetables: that's been a topic of much debate in the blogosphere lately. Jane Brody of the NYTimes recently wrote a lament that basically argued that people should know what's good for them and take their vegetable medicine. Many in the foodie blog community (Daniel Koontz of Causal KitchenJolly Tomato), as well as over 600 NYT readers, called her on it, stating "Can we please stop calling vegetables bad and rejoice in them?" In another thread, One Hungry Mama called for straight up vegetable love rather than teaching parents that veggies must be "sneaked' into cooking in order to be consumed by kids. I agree; we need more vegetable love.

Vegetables are delicious. Period. True, vegetables may require a bit more cooking skill and adults may have to open their minds a bit to get over old habits. If your working memory of vegetables runs something like spinach=canned or stringy frozen=punishment, go get yourself some fresh spinach, wash it well, and lightly steam. It is a totally different experience. True, organic and fresh food can be expensive, but getting sick is expensive too. Healthy food helps you and your family stay healthy. True, many kids balk at vegetables. But just remember that kids may have to be exposed to lots of veggies, lots of times (like 10+) in order to love them. There are easy ways to make kid-friendly, great-tasting vegetables and serve them from infancy onward.

My older kids love vegetables. Maybe they are "weird" or maybe it's because they have eaten them from baby-hood. (I used a blender to make babyfood or the Happy Baby Food Mill to crunch up everything right at the table.) My youngest, though I hate to admit it, is the picky one. She takes a lot of coaxing on vegetables, just like everything else. We call the bok choy "baby boy choy" even if it's not. We just give her the more tender leaves of a Chinese vegetable, not the stems. We let her open up the green beans and just eat the tiny little "pea" inside, tossing the rest away. After all the coaxing, there's a lot of ignoring. She often loudly declares that she doesn't like it, or worse, throws the offending thing off her plate. We firmly say "That's not allowed," and go into the "ignoring" portion of the dinner. We basically say you can eat it or not, but you can't be rude. And every night, we keep offerring her whatever vegetable we have on the table and steel ourselves for her discontent.

She is now 5 years old and this vegetable battle has been going on for maybe 2 or 3 years now. It can be wearing. But we do have some triumphs to report. She will now ask for salad (likes the carrot shreds and the tomatoes, sometimes the lettuce), she loves edamame, and she regularly eats broccoli, spinach, and the baby leaves from many Chinese vegetables. Her favorite dish is "Broccoli with the Flavor." Not just her favorite vegetable dish, her favorite thing to eat, period. My husband devised this stir-fry method, which my dear daughter dubbed "Broccoli with the Flavor." When I asked him to walk me through the steps of the recipe, he warned,"This is a seriously complicated way to make broccoli." But she loves it and your kids might too.

Broccoli with the Flavor
1 Head of Broccoli, sliced into florets, retaining some stem
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly or minced
1 teaspoon of soy sauce

Parboil broccoli: Cook in boiling water for 3 minutes. Promptly remove and run under cold water, spin dry in a lettuce spinner, if you have one. Otherwise, pat with paper towels to remove excess water.

Stir-Fry: Heat wok or saute pan until hot. Add canola oil and quickly saute garlic for 10 seconds, careful not to burn it. Toss in dried broccoli, scraping up the bottom to mix garlic, oil and vegetable. Cook this way for maybe 1 minute. Lower heat and add soy sauce. Toss for another 30 to 1 minute and serve.
PS: If I'm cooking, I just steam up the broccoli (try not to overcook!) and toss with a little butter, salt and pepper. She'll ate that too.

Spread Veggie Love!

Links to Veggie Debate and Resources for Cooking Veggies for Kids:


  1. Thanks for this. Great info, awesome round up. I'm honored to be included. And love the idea of approaching veggie love more playfully.

    I must admit--because I feel so passionately about ridding parents of the anxiety that often drives the impulse to hide vegetables--even I lose track of the lighthearted approach that keeps people feeling open about veggies. They can be so delicious, and colorful, and simple. Why NOT eat them all the time?!

  2. You can also fruitify veggies. My kids love kale smoothies: Kale, pineapple juice, frozen banana in the blender.


  3. Thanks for the mention, Grace! I can't wait to try Broccoli with "the flavor"...and I'm glad I read the comments too, because now I'm hankering for a kale smoothie!
    Jeanne @JollyTomato

  4. I'm blessed because my kids really do love veggies. Roasted with a bit of olive oil and kosher salt is their favorite way for most veggies!


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