Cooking with kids and veggies

Kids and fresh produce don't always mix – especially if we're talking about broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus. These veggies appeal more to the tastes of grown-ups than of kids, who might rather eat a hot dog or some mac 'n' cheese instead.

Mollie Katzen, a mother and well-known cookbook author ("Moosewood Cookbook") knows the drill well. Most kids prefer "sugar, frosting, and gumdrops" to fruits and vegetables, she says in "Salad People" (Tricycle Press; $17.95). The trick is getting kids into the kitchen for reasons other than "junk food." Her cookbook may help.

"Salad People" contains 20 inventive and preschooler-friendly snack recipes. Each is complete with step-by-step pictures that walk adults and young helpers through each phase of the cooking process. What works about the pictures is their simplicity. There's little reading; just follow the illustrations.

Even the recipe names are fun – Counting Soup, Polka Dot Rice, and Cory Corn Cakes, for example. The first recipe in the book, is for "salad people." It's loosely based on a meal that the author's mother used to make for her and her brothers when they were kids. "We called it Faces [back then]," she writes, "and it was a cheerful montage of cheese, fruit, and vegetables arranged to look like little people, one per plate."

The dish has a Mr. Potato Head-like feel to it. You start with a body (in this instance, it's a pear) and add various body parts, one by one. Cheese, celery sticks, bananas, or melon "spears" become arms and legs. Blueberries, raisins, or dried cranberries can be buttons on a shirt. The author makes suggestions for which foods work well for each body part, but the child is limited only by his or her imagination.

The author says giving kids the opportunity to prepare food on their own is the most effective way to encourage good eating habits: If they make it, they'll eat it. "Pride of accomplishment is key," she explains.

There are many soup and salad recipes in the book, but there also are recipes for tiny tacos, crunchy fruity granola, and broccoli-cheese quiche.

So what do kids think about all this cooking with fresh produce?

"More, please," says preschooler Andrew in the book. He adds, "I really liked it."

Salad People

Cored pear halves (fresh and ripe, or canned and drained)
Cottage cheese or very firm yogurt

Choose from among these other ingredients:
Strips of cheese (cut to be arms and feet)
Sliced bananas (cut into vertical spears as well as rounds)
Cantaloupe or honeydew melon (cut into 4-inch slices)
Celery sticks (plain or stuffed with nut butter)
Shredded carrots (in long strands, if possible)
Sliced strawberries
Dried cranberries
Pitted cherries
Cherry tomatoes
Cooked pasta, angel hair or rotini
Parsley sprigs
Small spinach leaves
Sliced black olives

Place a pear half in the center of each plate, flat side down. Arrange a round scoop of cottage cheese or very firm yogurt above the narrow top of the pear, so that the cheese or yogurt looks like a head and the pear resembles a torso.

Create arms and legs from strips of cheese, banana spears, or melon slices, or celery sticks.

Create hair, facial features, hands, feet, buttons, zippers, hats, and so forth from any combination of the remaining ingredients.

Name it and eat it!

Cool Cucumber Soup

2 medium cucumbers
1 cup plain yogurt
10 leaves fresh mint
Nonstick spray for the honey spoon
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel cucumbers and then cut them down the center, lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. (It's easiest to do this right over and into the garbage.) Cut the cucumbers into large chunks. Place the cucumber in a blender with the yogurt, mint, honey, and salt, then purée until smooth – or mostly smooth.

Serve cold in a bowl or cup. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Raspberry-Yogurt Swirl

1-1/2 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen unsweetened (see note below)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons apple juice concentrate, defrosted
2 cups vanilla yogurt

Put the raspberries in a blender with the sugar and apple juice concentrate. Purée.

Place a strainer over a bowl, and pour the purée into the strainer. Stir until the purée passes into the bowl and only the seeds are left in the strainer.

Funnel the raspberry purée into a plastic squeeze bottle and tightly screw on the lid.

For each serving, place 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt on a plate and spread it into a circle about 5 inches across.

Squeeze raspberry purée onto the yogurt in any chosen design, and, if desired, swirl it with a toothpick. Eat with a spoon. Makes 4 servings.

Note: If you use frozen unsweetened raspberries for this, defrost them at least halfway. Save and include in the purée the juices that the berries create as they defrost.

All recipes from 'Salad People," by Mollie Katzen.

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