Vegetables A to Z
By Katie Beltramo
How to prepare vegetables so that your kids will want to eat them
Need some new ideas to help your kids work up a healthy and healthful appetite? Here are ideas that work for getting kids to enjoy (or at least try) vegetables.
Artichoke: This is such an interesting vegetable with such a strange method for eating—dipping each leaf, then dragging it against your teeth—that children are magically intrigued. Our family loves to dip artichokes in lemon-butter sauce.
Asparagus: Did you know that asparagus will make your pee smell entirely different? If that doesn't capture your imagination, you clearly aren't a child. Steam spears or roast them, but don't overcook or many kids will turn up their noses at the too-squishy texture. We love this recipe for roasted asparagus with Asian peanut sauce.
Avocado: The texture (and mix-ins) of standard guacamole can be a turn-off for many children. Instead, cut an avocado in half and let them explore it with a spoon, or offer up sliced or diced avocado.
Basil: Okay, it's not a vegetable, really, but basil is easy to grow, and kids love to eat plants right from the ground or a pot. My kids particularly love the more exotic-looking purple basil.
Beans (Misc.): My kids enjoy beans straight from the can. Another great idea for trying beans is to purchase a bag of bean soup mix and have a taste test to choose the best bean.
Beets: The gorgeous color of beets is attractive to kids, and you can grate it finely to make a basic salad prettier. Beets can also be hidden in baked goods like these red velvet cupcakes, which yes, I have baked and watched my children happily consume until my husband told them about the secret ingredient. If you eat enough beets, you can turn your pee pink!
Broccoli: Broccoli's beautiful, like little trees. My first child kept refusing the steamed broccoli I proffered: turns out she preferred it raw. If you let broccoli grow too long it flowers into a lovely bouquet, which makes it fun to eat, too.
Brussels Sprouts: At our house, we like to think of Brussels Sprouts as cabbage for fairies. Roasting Brussels Sprouts gives them a nutty flavor; we also like cooking them with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Butternut Squash: Some kids will like these cubed and roasted or pureed into a soup: mine don't. My daughter finally became a fan with my favorite recipe from Lyn-Genet Recitas's The Plan Cookbook: skip the peeling and cut thin rounds from the neck of the squash, then season the rounds with cumin, garlic powder and salt and cook them in olive oil until they're softened. They're an excellent, healthful substitute for tortillas.
Cabbage: We like to go Asian with cabbage. Our family's favorite recipe is this Summer Dinner Salad recipe that's a version of the chicken, cabbage, & ramen noodle salad that you'll often find at potlucks. Another favorite preparation is cabbage stirfried quickly with some lemon juice, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Either way, my kids prefer the sturdy green or red cabbage rather than the frilly Napa or Savoy cabbages, which are pretty but become distastefully limp quickly. We've actually published some KidsOutAndAbout readers' favorite cabbage recipes, which you can find here.
Carrots: Raw snacking carrots are a favorite, but for those who are carrot-averse (that includes me!), grate finely and sprinkle on a salad or sandwich. Another terrific preparation is to toss chunks of carrots with a bit of butter and maple syrup and roast in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes.
Cauliflower: I've seen family members fight over the last of the cauliflower when we've made Mark Bittman's Buffalo Cauliflower. Our family also likes cauliflower florets tossed with olive oil, salt, & pepper, and roasted in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes.
Celery: It's a simple vegetable, really. But if your kids shy away from it chopped in chicken soup or cut into convenient sticks on their own or prepared as ants on a log, you might intrigue them by cutting the ends of long sticks and placing them in water with food coloring to see the celery draw up some rainbow colors.
Collards: This recipe for Collards, Chickpeas, Gnocci, and Cheese is an all-time kid-favorite at our house. They started out avoiding the collards, but as they got older they couldn't help noticing how good it all smelled together.
Corn: Ah, corn on the cob. Kids love things presented on a stick. If that doesn't work, snack on frozen kernels straight from the bag. Our kids also love johnny cakes, the pancake version of cornbread. Nowadays, they also like this healthful black bean, corn, & red pepper dip, although they thought it was too scary to try when they were little. Canned baby corn is also a big kid-pleaser.
Cucumbers: These are great for snacking plain, of course, but they're also yummy chopped up and put into tzatziki. At our house, we love the variant included in Sean's Falafel and Cucumber Sauce. My younger daughter loves the miniature cucumbers, which she likes to scoop out with a small melon baller and fill with other goodies.
Daikon: My kids and I actually like pickled daikon, which you'll sometimes find as an ornament at Asian restaurants. When it's available, I do an instant-pickle at home with a blend of rice wine vinegar, water, sugar, & salt (see below).
Edamame: These furry little pods are entertaining to squeeze open, and they're a lovely snack. In fact, they're so popular that you can actually purchase frozen snack packs of these that are microwaveable: a great little protein hit!
Eggplant: They are beautiful and purple, so that could get you far with some kids. Full disclosure? This is my least-favorite vegetable of this entire article. You could try a Baba Ghanoush recipe or this curried eggplant dip. Although now, in the process of trying to remind myself what Baba Ghanoush is called, I saw this recipe for Persian Eggplant Dip with caramelized onions, and now I have hope for my eggplant future!
Fiddleheads: These are rare finds in early spring, and between the fact that they are crazy-almost-monstrous-looking and that they are literally just baby ferns, kids might be intrigued. Boil them for ten minutes and then sauté them with garlic.
Frisee: This frilly-looking green is actually from the endive family, not a lettuce, and it can be bitter. If you're making a vegetable face, this makes terrific hair. Otherwise? Challenging. The F vegetables are challenging, people.
Garbanzo Beans, aka Chickpeas: Hooray! These are an all-time favorite at our house. As in, my kids will just open a can and start eating them. They love-love-love it when I roast chickpeas as a snack (here's my recipe). Hummus is also a great choice, but keep in mind that different brands can vary in taste significantly. If you have a food processor, making hummus at home is much cheaper than purchasing prepared hummus (especially if you skip the tahini). We also love falafel at our house (see recipe linked above in cucumbers).
Green Beans: These come in steam-able bags and are terrific mixed with almonds and lemon-butter sauce. The thin French beans are a great way to introduce green beans.
Herbs: Growing an herb garden and encouraging kids to rub, smell, and taste the different herbs is an excellent way to get your kids to be plant-eating explorers.
Iceberg Lettuce: Sure, we pooh-pooh iceberg because it's not one of those deep, rich greens like kale. But some nice, fresh iceberg lettuce, with its neutral flavor and satisfying crunch, is a great gateway to loving lettuce. Try using it as a lettuce wrap or order one of those big iceberg wedge salads at a restaurant, then "reluctantly" let your kids try it.
Jicama: If you have kids who'll snack on celery or carrots, you should give this Mexican root vegetable a try. They look a bit like a potato, but you can eat them raw and they taste almost sweet. Jicama can be tricky, though: good jicama is delicious and not-too-good jicama is pretty bad, in my opinion. If you're trying to expand your family's repertoire, choose wisely (something firm, and not dried out) and taste to make sure you've got a "good" one before sharing.
Kale: I've made kale chips and watched my daughter munch on them while insisting between bites that she doesn't like them at all. Because sure, they're kale, but it's still tough to stop reaching for chips in front of you. Would I prefer it if my daughter were telling me how much she loved the chips I'd made? Sure. But it's easy to ignore the complaints while you're watching your daughter consume a cup or two of kale. Since then, she's fallen in love with this kale salad recipe, which has become a favorite with my extended family. My niece's and nephews' teenage friends enthusiastically request this salad when they are invited over to the house.
Kidney Beans: Again, my kids will eat these straight out of the can, but they're easy to throw onto a quesadilla as well.
Lentils: Lentil soup is likely your best bet, unless your kids love Indian food (mine do), in which case you can try some dal next time you go out. Sure, you could cook it, but why not woo them with something made by an expert? If it becomes a favorite, then you can invest your precious time in coming up with a home version. You've got a life to live.
Lettuce: One of the best ways to intrigue kids about eating lettuce is to actually grow lettuce, In a pinch, you could even cheat by buying butter or bibb lettuce (often sold with full roots still intact) and "plant" it to trick your kids. Rolling items in lettuce is another hit with kids. Our family loves the Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.
Lima Beans: If you don't mind them playing with their food, kids like to split Lima beans into their two distinct halves before eating. Okay, I'm lying: I liked to do that growing up. Then I showed my kids, and they thought I was a big dork. But their friends thought it was fun.
Mushrooms: Raw is usually the way to go here. Cooked mushrooms have a texture that's tough for many kids (and adults). The best way to wash mushrooms is to gently brush them with a kitchen brush or wipe them with a damp paper towel. Assign your kids to this task and they're likely to get curious and try a taste. Another entree into mushroom appreciation is to stuff mushrooms with something delicious and cook them in the oven until they're irresistible. We like to stuff mushrooms with a blend of cheese, green chilies, almonds, and bread crumbs based on a Mexican-style chicken recipe we love from McCall's Cooking School.
Nori: This seaweed's flavor is, well, challenging, but it's so interesting that it can attract a curious child. Looking like crispy green paper, nori can be used as a wrap or toasted and eaten chip-style. Sushi is so interesting-looking that if you go out to eat, especially with a sushi chef at work, your kids might be willing to try a California roll, at least.
Onions: Onion rings. They're the gateway. First, the cautious kid may just nibble the fried goodness and leave the actual vegetable ring. That's when you lure them in further with haystacks or a blooming onion, options that can be more difficult to segregate. Then kids realize that, well cooked, onions can be mild, even sweet. Next it's caramelized onions or onions chopped and cooked into translucent harmlessness. You're in!
Peas: Harvest snap peas from the garden and your child will fall in love. If it's not the season for that, frozen peas straight from the bag, sprinkled with a little salt, aren't bad, either.
Potatoes: Oh, come on! Potatoes? Your child can handle potatoes! But start sneaking in variety. They'll only eat french fries? What about different cuts, or tater tots? If those passed, how about sweet potato fries or boiled salt potatoes? Next thing you know, your child has expanded his or her repertoire painlessly! Baby steps, people.
Pumpkins: Pumpkin bread can lure kids in. If they seem hesitant, go ahead and throw in some chocolate chips. Our family loves pickled pumpkins. Don't forget pumpkin seeds! They're a great source of protein and a terrific emergency snack to keep in your bag or your car.
Purslane: This sometimes-weed is high in antioxidants and popular at summertime farmers' markets. When my kids saw it, it looked so much like something that they shouldn't be eating (a random weed in the yard), that they were dying to try it. Imagine my joy when they liked it.
Red Peppers (or any peppers): Pepper strips are the next logical step if your child will eat celery and/or carrots and ranch dressing. Try preparing green, yellow, and red peppers and have kids to a taste test. Kids LOVE a taste test. You can also roast red peppers and puree them, then combine them with ricotta cheese to make a beautiful pink sauce that will be irresistible to Pinkalicious types.
Snap Peas: The closest thing you'll get to peas fresh from the garden, and another great accompaniment to your kid's favorite dip. You can eat the whole things, of course, but these are also fun to open.
Spaghetti Squash: The sheer weirdness of how this squash mimics pasta will attract some (cut it in half and pull out the seeds, microwave one of the halves for 6 minutes, then use a fork to "harvest spaghetti"). If novelty alone isn't enough, sway your child with their favorite spaghetti accompaniment (tomato sauce for some; at our house it's butter, Parmesan, and garlic).
Spinach: Oh, agreeable spinach! It disappears nicely into a smoothie and turns into little inconspicuous wisps if chopped and thrown into a soup. Once, while eating this soup, I actually overheard my daughter, who used to try to navigate around the spinach and onions, mutter to herself, "it's not worth the trouble, the soup is too good." With that, she took a spoonful and sucked it down, spinach and all. I've also served spinach in smoothies and overheard my daughter notice a green bit and tell herself it must be a strawberry leaf. Another way to fall in love with spinach is via the flaky Greek pastry spanokopita, filled with spinach and feta.
Sweet Potatoes: These are terrific just baked like a regular potato, or we like to cut them into chunks, toss with butter and maple syrup, and roast in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes.
Tomato: Tomatoes come in so many forms that there's likely some way that your child will like them. Try: tomato sauce, sliced raw tomatoes, cute little cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, tomatoes roasted with Parmesan and breadcrumbs, and organic/natural ketchup (sure, ketchup isn't your end-goal, but a love of ketchup will someday translate into greater tomato enthusiasm if you keep exposing the kids).
Tomatillo: These are THE secret to delicious, homemade, fresh salsa. Here are two recipes our family loves. Tomatillos are also great cooked up with onions and peppers for fajitas.
Water Chestnuts: Water chestnuts have a very neutral flavor and a satisfying crunch. Add them to a stir-fry or order them with your next order of Chinese food.
Watercress: I was looking for literary mentions, because I thought that some kids might like trying tea sandwiches with watercress, and I found this fabulous site in which the blogger recreates food from literature (like Ratty's picnic from The Wind in the Willows, which include cress sandwiches). Also, did you know that there's this whole "Watercress Girl" theme in Victorian literature, like the Little Match Girl? Yeah, I didn't either. Meanwhile, if you're not trying to get your child to consciously appreciate the fact that they're eating watercress, you can throw a few leaves into a salad or whatever greens your family members find acceptable already.
Yellow Squash: While you can roast this, of course, my preferred method of eating yellow squash is grating it finely and putting it into pasta sauce, where it virtually disappears. As you may have guessed, yellow squash is not my favorite squash. But, true story: my entire family has said that they prefer the tomato sauce with the yellow squash in it. That's not what they said, actually. They've just said that the sauce was especially good on days when I've added yellow squash, and I've smiled knowingly to myself, like June Cleaver.
Zucchini: Zucchini, or green squash, can get the same grated treatment as yellow squash, but my absolute favorite way to eat zucchini is to slice it lengthwise, marinate it in some vinegar & oil (or Italian dressing), then grill it for about 4 minutes each side on medium-to-medium-low heat. They're an awesome addition to sandwiches!
Many different dips and sauces help encourage kids to eat their veggies. Here are some suggestions.
Ranch: A classic for a reason. Works well with carrots, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, peppers, and more.
Hummus: Surprisingly popular with kids. Made with chickpeas, and works great with carrots, celery, peppers.
Pickling solution: Heat 1/3 rice wine vinegar with 2/3 water, add some sugar & salt, and give sliced veggies a soak. Works well with daikon, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, and baby corn.
Lemon-Butter: Melt butter and mix in lemon juice at a 2 to 1 ratio; add garlic powder or garlic salt if you like. Great for artichokes, broccoli, green beans, and corn.
Thai-Style: Mix equal parts coconut milk and soy sauce together; add a bit of lime juice. Great with broccoli, water chestnuts, baby corn, snap peas, carrots, and more.
Asian Peanut: Mix peanut butter and soy sauce; add garlic or ginger if you'd like. Great with red peppers, spinach, broccoli, water chestnuts, baby corn, snap peas, carrots, asparagus, and more.
Cheese: cold cream cheese spread on raw veggies or any favorite melted cheese on top of cooked vegetables.