I love vegetables because I’ve been eating them since I can remember putting food in my mouth. My daughter loves vegetables because I fed them to her as soon as she could chew. Her daughter loves…
You get it, I know. But if you didn’t start when your kids were so young that they did almost anything you told them, it’s not too late. It will be harder, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Picture a kid in a highchair with a tray full of Cheerios, pudgy fingers chasing oat-y circles, some stuck to her drool-sogged t-shirt. Nothing wrong with Cheerios, for kids or adults (Mot eats them every.single.morning), but they aren’t vegetables. Let’s say that kid is teething (or not, doesn’t matter). Toss a handful of frozen peas on her tray. Or frozen corn kernels. Not expensive, organic peas that you shelled and blanched yourself in your nonexistent spare time and then placed lovingly in individual (expensive) Ziploc freezer bags. Frozen peas or corn from the giant economy package you bought at your neighborhood grocery store (or Walmart, though I personally think I will be electrocuted if I walk through that door, so I don’t).
And let me say that I know peas and corn are not technically vegetables, peas being legumes and corn a grain, but they’re also not French fries or Froot Loops.
Frozen vegetables are fine. Not canned but frozen. Frozen green beans are often better than what you can find fresh unless you live where they grow, and fresh green beans can be really expensive. Frozen are also available all year long, not just when the fresh stuff is in season. Not the frozen veg with the butter sauce or whatever other horrible crap is in there – don’t ever buy or eat those – just the unadorned single ingredient (no added onions, peppers, no ComboWithSomethingElse thing). Beans, green: French cut, whole, Italian, whatever.
Back to raw vegetables for a minute, because they are better but only if they’re available and affordable. Here are a couple that are available all year, are not exotic, are usually affordable, you can buy once a week and cook once or, in the case of carrots, will last in your refrigerator that long.
A carrot is universally beloved, right? Who doesn’t like a carrot? I don’t understand it, but some kids hate them cooked (when they’re sweeter?) but love them raw. So who says the vegetable on your kid’s dinner plate has to be hot? Peel (or scrub) raw carrots, hold out a handful for the Cooked Carrot Hater, cook the rest in salted water (more on that later) for the rest of the gang, et voila. If you adults want some herb butter on yours or a chiffonade of mint, knock yourself out, but taking your kids’ carrots out of the pan before you do that takes zero extra time and you really shouldn’t expect a three-year-old to eat a chiffonade of anything. Most kids, for the first several years of their lives, like single-taste, identifiable food, no mixing, no casseroles, no sauce.
Broccoli. Notwithstanding George H.W. Bush’s childish whine, it is a very easy vegetable to like. If you prepare it correctly, it is a vegetable to love. I can’t get enough of the stuff; we probably eat it three times a week. Here’s the deal:
Buy fresh broccoli with dark green tops, florets that look like they are fat with moisture, stems (trunks, we call ‘em) that are hard and stiff. No floppy trunks. (No smart-ass comments either.) Rinse the whole thing, cut off any yucky spots. Cut the florets off near where they join the trunks, drop in a large skillet with an inch of water in the bottom. With a paring knife trim the bottom off the trunk, trim the big branches off like you’re whittling a piece of wood (or, if they’re really big, cut them off the trunk and treat them like a trunk). Then hold the trunk in one hand, bottom up, and peel that tough, pale green skin by catching an edge of it with your knife and thumb and pulling it toward you and down. Julia Child said, “You must peel broccoli,” and she was, as usual, right. It takes an extra two minutes to peel, and once you do it, you’ll be a peeler for life, I promise.
Or don’t peel it. I won’t know.
Cut the trunks into coins about a half-inch thick, pitch those into the skillet with the florets, push the trunks to the bottom, letting the florets float on the top trunk side down, salt the water, put a lid on it and turn the burner to high. When the water is fully boiling and enough condensation has collected on the lid to get the exposed broccoli wet and hot and into the whole cooking thing, take the lid off and cook just until the thickest trunk section is easily pierced with a fork. If you use a big enough skillet and crank the burner up, the cooking part shouldn’t take more than five or six minutes total (especially if they’re peeled, but who’s pushing?). Let me reiterate: use a flat, wide pan, commonly known as a skillet. If you pile a bunch of broccoli into a high-sided saucepan, you will do two things: increase the cooking time because all that water has to boil, and the chances of overcooking greatly increase. Also, don’t stir the broccoli in the skillet while it’s cooking: you want whole, perfect florets, not broccoli mush.
Drain immediately. If you’re me, you’ll add tiny bits of butter to melt on the hot broccoli and a couple grinds of black pepper. Fat tastes good, and kids think so too. A little bit doesn’t hurt, especially if it makes vegetables taste good enough that they’ll eat them. I almost forgot. Salt makes food taste good too: ask any chef about unsalted food. Salting food in the early stages of cooking means no one needs to add salt later. The salt that is bad for you are those vast quantities of it in processed food, which you should avoid (for far more reasons than the salt) whenever possible.
I have two huge All-Clad skillets that I cook damn near everything in. I can cook three very large heads of broccoli in one skillet, so I buy that much and cook them for one dinner, storing what we don’t eat in the fridge to microwave for one minute for lunch or another dinner’s veg. Three big heads of broccoli are ten ordinary servings of broccoli, six if you’re me and Mot.
If you overcook broccoli, it tastes truly awful. When it’s gone from bright green to olive green, it smells a little like sewage. It’s a chemical thing that most green vegetables do, which explains why too many people hate them. Don’t walk away from the stove or get on the phone. The protein and the starch, if any, can wait on the dinner plates for those perfect vegetables to be dropped off last.
One more thing. A normal serving of starch for a kid is no more than a half-cup of cooked whatever (rice/pasta/potatoes). The veg serving should be the same size. If the kid is hungry, has eaten all the starch and wants more, they don’t get any until the veg is gone. More veg is always fine, as much as the kid will eat.
Next, Fruit. Or maybe how to get dinner on the table in half an hour (really). Or Those Other Vegetables. I’m on kind of a roll. Stay tuned.