Vegetables get a bad rap. Growing up I learned to be suspicious of sauces. I love gravy and cheese sauce but they often were tools to hide food. It's how we do it - if the kids won't eat something cover it up with something yummy. Two problems emerge - the sauces are often high in fat and sodium which outweighs the nutritional value of the hidden vegetable and the eater doesn't develop a taste for the vegetable as it is leading to a life of avoidance without sauce.
I am guilty of this. I was one who hid cauliflower in my son's mac and cheese with the hope that he wouldn't notice. The thing about my son is you can't fool him. He always knew when I was hiding something in his food - always. Sometimes he would let me get away with it, waiting until the meal was over to inform me that he knew I had put xyz in his food. Other times he would declare that the food was tainted and he wasn't eating it.
It made me realize that hiding vegetables was not going to be a strategy I could use. So I started a new rule and a new plan - I gave my son more control over his food but he had to eat some of everything I offered. Another rule we instilled was that he didn't have to eat everything on his plate (after taking at least a bite or two) but he couldn't have seconds until his plate was cleared.
I still made cheese sauce because it made the vegetables go down easier but my son could choose how much sauce.
Eventually, I realized we needed to cut calories. Cheese sauce could not be a staple and making a low fat cheese sauce was just not satisfying. So one night, I decided I didn't want to make the sauce and offered shredded cheese with the vegetables. The cheese alone had fewer calories and fat than the sauce. What I didn't expect is that the cheese allowed us to open up to the flavors of vegetables. A little cheese is like a crutch that taught the vegetable to stand on its own. Soon, my family was exploring new vegetables with excitement because they actually liked them.
However, there are a few tricks that make the vegetables taste better. Overcooking vegetables not only ruins the nutritional value but it ruins the taste and often creates a horrible texture. I buy frozen when I can, except for peas and green beans. Frozen corn, cauliflower and broccoli (amongst many other vegetables) are quick and easy to make. I do buy fresh when it's less expensive. I steam the cauliflower and broccoli in a steamer basket until it's just tender.
Would you believe that my son actually asks for brussel sprouts and asparagus? He prefers them roasted with just a bit of salt. Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetables.
I have learned to keep the vegetables as close to natural as possible. This makes them more nutritious but strangely they taste better. When you let the natural flavors since through it makes a difference. However, start small and slowly shift the family thinking.
This week and into next, I will share some recipes that will open up the doors to re-invisioning vegetables. Don't let yourself get into that same 'ole rut. Don't be afraid to try. You may get some complaints but don't complain back. This is a new year and you are brave. You want to eat better for so many reasons and you can do it on a budget.
Now my last tip of the day - get the family interested. When you're at the store, ask them if they want to go on an adventure with you and try something new. We do this now and again - just pick a fruit or vegetable we have never tried before. I will say that the majority of them have been wonderful additions, some have been hideous (cactus was not a family favorite). You can start with something safe like a persimmon or pomegranete. Ask your kids for ideas or your spouse/significant other what vegetable dishes they liked from their childhood. Work together as a family and you will be more successful.
I know it's hard - right now my son thinks I am obsessed with measuring my food because I did it last night at dinner. I tell him it's because I want to eat better and make better choices. He can understand that. He can also understand that by measuring my food and entering it into the computer allows me to have more snacks during nighttime tv because I know exactly how much I have eaten during the day (and if mommy snacks, he gets a snack too).