Is this post proof that I'm misusing Seven Quick Takes, or that I'm taking it to a new, exciting level?
Eating vegetables is very important to me. It's pretty much the one thing every healthy-eating school of thought agrees about: we should all be eating more of them. (I did read a comment on the Weston A. Price Foundation saying that vegetables were a waste because their nutrients are all gone by the time they reach the store. But that isn't true, and it's not even the view of the WAPF -- at least, Nourishing Traditions has a huge section on vegetables that convinced me to try a lot of new ones!)
It's also important to eat a variety of vegetables, in a variety of ways, because you don't get the same benefits from peas as from squash, or from raw carrots that you get from cooked carrots. Some vegetables are really best cooked (like eggplant) and others I prefer raw (like cucumbers) but for things that can be had multiple ways, it's good to mix things up.
Some people actually think that as long as you eat some vegetables, you're all clear. But there are nutrients that are only found in certain types of vegetables, so that if you rule out all orange veggies (for instance), you're selling yourself short. Besides, one helping of spinach a day is hardly keeping you out of deficiency. At best, it may keep you from chronic constipation.... or not.
When I was growing up, we had one fruit a day, max, plus a vegetable at dinner if it happened to be contained in a casserole. Vegetables weren't really the focus, and we couldn't afford fresh ones very often, so I thought I didn't care for them. But when Grandma came by our house with a box of sweet corn and homegrown tomatoes, I definitely became a vegetable lover pretty quick!
I hope to raise my kids with a variety of delicious vegetables too. But there are a few obstacles -- budget and pickiness. Both of my kids ate everything with relish when they first started eating solids, but now they do gravitate toward meat and starch (Michael likes meat and Marko prefers starch) and often leave the veggies sitting on their plates. I don't force them to finish -- it's just a sign that I need to try something different to tempt them to try. But oh, how I hate wasting food when it's all so expensive!
As far as budget goes, it's good to just browse the produce section and see what's cheapest each week. Usually that ends up being what's in season, either locally or in one of the big produce-growing parts of the world. The less perishable things, like squash or carrots, are often cheaper because they are easier to transport before they go bad. I don't buy organics at this point. Better to buy a lot of vegetables than only organic vegetables -- the nutrients in any vegetable will help you combat any toxins you happen to consume.
In most cases, fresh is better than frozen, which is better than canned. However, since vegetables are frozen straight out of the field, often the day they are picked, they can sometimes be more nutritious than what's been sitting on the shelf all month. (They may not be as tasty, though, sadly. At least the kids think not.) And one vegetable at least -- tomato -- actually increases in some nutrients when it's canned.
Breakfast: I admit vegetables aren't usually a big part of our breakfasts. We start with fruit (because my kids wake up ravenous and fruit is pretty much instant) and then have something else after. Eggs with spinach, dandelion greens, onions, or mushrooms are often a hit -- especially if I keep them all on my plate and pretend I don't want to share. (Ah, kids -- your perversity is so easy to manipulate sometimes.) In the summer, I often get my hands on a few enormous zucchini and make zucchini bread or muffins. Carrot muffins are good any time of year.
Lunch: I made it a resolution of mine some time back to try to make vegetables the centerpiece of lunch. It doesn't always happen, but I try. The reason is that the same veggies that get ignored when sitting beside a chicken leg and some mashed potatoes somehow get eaten right up when they're the only thing offered. And if I'm making just the veggie dish, I have time to make something really tasty.
A few big hits:
Fried eggplant with marinara sauce
Veggie wraps -- lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sprouts if you've got 'em, even a few green beans don't go amiss! In midsummer I replace lettuce (which has bolted in my garden) with purslane, which grows wild in the yard. The secret to a good wrap is a good dressing -- ranch and homemade mayo are both hits. A few cubes of cheese are a hit with the kids, but chickpeas are good protein for wraps too.
Burritos -- refried beans don't count in my book, but lettuce, tomato, corn, and homemade salsa all do. Putting the same things in a bowl works, too, but the kids often pick out their favorite things and leave the rest, whereas when it's hidden away in a tortilla, they'll eat almost anything.
Green beans with hollandaise sauce
Tomato and cucumber sandwiches
Sweet potato fries, sometimes with homemade mayo to dip them in (don't knock it till you've tried it, mmmmm)
Creamed collard greens -- for that matter, creamed anything
Pumpkin or squash with butter and curry powder
Any kind of vegetable soup -- blended soups seem to go over better with the kids, but some days Marko in particular will turn his nose up at soup, the barbarian.
Quiche, with whatever veggies I have thrown in
Pasta with vegetables in it -- though they sometimes pick them out. A lasagna-type sauce (marinara sauce mixed with ricotta) goes over pretty well with spinach mixed in.
Mac 'n' cheese with pumpkin puree added to the sauce -- you can even leave out the cheese altogether and season with sage and thyme instead. As an extra perk, it's as bright orange as Kraft. The kids seem to go for bright colors.
Salad -- I don't serve this to the kids. I just make it for myself a bit before our usual lunchtime, put on a really good dressing, maybe some canned salmon or chickpeas, and dig in. They swarm around like a couple of vultures and eat almost the whole thing, as a prelude to their own lunch. If I put some in their own bowls, forget it.
These things are surprisingly satisfying -- veggies are often higher in protein than you'd think, and my dressings are usually fatty -- but sometimes we have some other food too, after the veggies. I don't tell them we're having anything else, but if they're still hungry after the veggie course is gone, I suggest PBJ, quesadilla -- you know, the usual suspects.
I don't really push veggies for snacks much, but some days we just have cucumber slices or green pepper slices with dip and are happy as clams. Celery with peanut butter is sometimes good, though they will try to lick off the peanut butter and get more. Occasionally they want a plain carrot, but they rarely finish one. Pickles or pickled green beans or some other fermented goodie always get eaten up. If we have avocados, they gobble them up with lemon juice and a little salt. One time I made artichoke dip with crackers and we all loved that -- I should try spinach dip too. If the veggie IS the dip, they don't think to pick it out.
We do the traditional meat-starch-veggie combo most nights, but I could use some ideas. On the one hand, if I'm going through all that trouble making three courses, I don't feel much like doing something interesting with the veggies. On the other, no one really likes plain frozen peas, corn, or broccoli, and it seems like that's all we ever have. Occasionally we have canned green beans or asparagus, cucumber slices, salad, or boiled cabbage. A good dressing helps, but making a sauce or dressing at five pm is always an iffy proposition. Having something already in the fridge is so handy. Pesto, lemon-parsley sauce, homemade mayo, teriyaki sauce ..... if I have it already made, and can put it on the vegetables, the kids like everything better.
Sometimes we have casserole or soup, but Marko at least is happy to pick out his favorite ingredients and leave the rest. Sometimes we bribe him to finish, but it does give me peace of mind to know that he has plenty of vegetables the rest of the day. I just eat his leftovers after he's left the table.
In my book, potatoes aren't vegetables -- although, for a starch, they're surprisingly nutritious. With their skins, they are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. We just use them so often as a source of calories that I feel like we need something else to switch things up. I also don't count tomato sauce or onions as vegetables, just because they are seasonings in so many of our meals. But of course they are quite healthy too.
Do your kids eat vegetables? Do you? Which are your favorites? How do you get them into your diet?
The Quick Takes are all at Conversion Diary. I hope no one gets mad at me for veggifying Quick Takes, but I had a boring week!