We all know we’re meant to eat five portions of fruit or veg a day – but if you’ve got kids, then you’ll know that the only green things many will eat are the contents of their own nostrils. But don’t despair! Food writer Alice Whitehead’s handy hints on sneaking fruit and vegetables into their meals will help you green up their diet (in the healthiest possible way) without them even knowing it.
Just face it
If the only green thing that goes into your child’s mouth is a building block (or worse! Ick – Amanda), then try pepping up their lunchbox with fun things to do. Make edible faces with slices of carrot or baby tomatoes for eyes, strips of spring onion for eyebrows, baby sweetcorn for the nose and curved segments of pepper for the mouth. They’ll love helping you make it and putting them together with friends at school. You could even add broccoli florets to make a moustache, or shredded salad leaves and watercress for hair!
Have fun with vitamin-packed crudités and homemade dips. Try broccoli and cauliflower florets, mangetout, carrot and bread sticks with a blend of crème fraîche, chopped dill and crushed garlic, or grated cheese with cream, plain yoghurt, lemon juice and garlic. Alternatively, cut up apple wedges and serve with a peanut butter dip made using soft cheese (such as Philadelphia) peanut butter and raisins. A salsa dip (tomatoes, mild chilli, onion and garlic) always goes down well with pitta bread triangles; try blending with plain yoghurt and mild Cajun spices.
Soup it up
Most children are put off by a pile of vegetables ‘in the raw’, but a lot will eat veg soups. Try cream of asparagus by sautéing asparagus spears and leek in butter, adding boiled potatoes and single cream and blending, or a ‘jolly green giant soup,’ made by blending green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach or broccoli with vegetable stock, soft cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. For added fun, serve soup in a pretty tea set or, better still, fill a flask and enjoy outdoors – kids love the freedom of eating away from the dinner table and soup is the perfect warmer for Hallowe’en parties and Bonfire Night!
Disguise the ‘disgusting’
Captivate, camouflage and cover up at mealtimes by whizzing up a leek and a handful of kale or broccoli florets in a blender with a tin of tomatoes and pinch of paprika for a Mediterranean pasta sauce; use it as a base for mini pizzas, soup or as a topping for baked potatoes. Or make veggie bean burgers, by mashing a can of black-eyed beans with a handful of finely chopped mixed veg (such as carrot, cabbage and cauliflower), 1/2tsp crushed garlic, 1tbsp tomato puree, one beaten egg, one cup of breadcrumbs and 1tbsp mixed dried herbs. Form into patties and grill. They’ll never suspect they’re eating loads of healthy veg!
Blending vegetables into juices and smoothies is a tasty, nutritious and portable way of getting kids to eat their greens (and reds and oranges too!) Try carrot with cinnamon, pear with cabbage, celery and watercress, or beetroot with carrot, celery and apple. Add lemon and honey if they want it more tangy or sweet.
Find comfort on cold days with a spot of home baking – veggie style – using vegetables as ingredients in cakes, biscuits and muffins. Naturally sweet vegetables not only taste great but they can reduce the amount of sugar you need to put in the recipe. Try grated carrot with cinnamon in cakes, beetroot with chocolate in brownies and parsnip with ginger and dried fruit in muffins.
Create the extraordinary from the ordinary by using cookie cutters to cut vegetables into fun shapes before roasting, or make a cityscape using swirling towers of mashed potato with broccoli florets for trees, and bridges from carrot battons. Alternatively, create a pond of vegetable soup with floating toasted bread ‘rafts’ or cracker fishes, or top it with a smiley face using a swirl of cream. Toddlers will love building with (and hopefully eating) small bricks of cooked carrot, parsnip, or cheese and pineapple.
Do you want fries with that?
Most kids like chips so make your own by roasting strips of carrot, parsnip and celeriac in the oven. Add a sprinkling of salt and balsamic vinegar, and wrap in newspaper for an authentic and cute touch. Alternatively, use a griddle pan to add stripes to vegetables for a jungle effect; or make vegetable fritters by mixing 1 grated carrot, 1 grated potato, a few chopped up Brussels, 2 eggs, 1tbsp each of flour and parsley, and season. Flatten into individual discs and fry for approx. 2 minutes on each side.