It is spring in Asheville, and something amazing has happened in my family. Strawberries are back in season, and my daughter, a fairly selective eater, has decided that strawberry-and-kale smoothies are awesome. I still kind of shake my head at this declaration. But hey, I’ll go with it.
We even made kale smoothie popsicles that she shared with her friends. She got about a 50 percent thumbs up from the neighborhood crew — a pretty good rate given it was a first exposure to a new food.
I am (although I’m a little ashamed to admit it) a bit proud as she shares this newfound favorite food discovery with anyone who will listen. And it is a great reminder to me that presenting healthy foods in a variety of ways is an effective strategy for getting those foods into little bodies.
The Rainbow In My Tummy program has a few tricks up its sleeve as well for presenting fruits and vegetables in a variety of delicious ways. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Incorporate fruits and vegetables into familiar items. Sweet potato hummus (an all-time favorite — see recipe), pumpkin muffins, spinach lasagna and banana bread are some tasty examples. This can be a nice way to introduce new foods and slip in a few extra nutrients. Oh, and they taste really good!
- Add some flavor. Another surefire trick is to add a little bit of flavor to the otherwise ordinary. Roast asparagus with a little olive oil and seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic powder) and cauliflower with olive oil, garlic, a touch of lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Sauté kale with some naturally sweet caramelized onions. These additions boost flavor without covering up the delicious taste of the vegetable. But isn’t adding fat and salt a bad thing? Aren’t we supposed to be avoiding those? Well, yes, in excess. The culinary secret, though, is that fat carries flavor. In other words, it makes things taste good and makes food more satisfying. Adding a little bit of olive oil or other unsaturated fat to vegetables can make them taste good, and they are still amazingly good for you. As for salt, a sprinkle of salt on vegetables can enhance the flavor of the vegetable itself. A carrot will actually taste a little more “carroty” with a touch of salt. Where folks generally get in trouble is with the sodium and fat that come in packaged, processed foods. It is hidden and, frankly, just makes food salty versus enhancing natural flavors.
- Try a different cooking method or not cooking it at all. If steamed broccoli isn’t going over very well, then try roasting it. If cooked carrots don’t make the plate, try a raw shredded carrot salad, for example. Grill the corn rather than steam it, or cook it in the husk for an interactive dish.
- Buy it in season. Strawberries just happen to be in season right now, making those kale smoothies extra yummy. Asheville City Markets and other local farmers markets are now open for the season, so check out what is growing. Fruits and vegetables right out of the garden offer the tastiest, most nutritious and often the least expensive options out there, and involving your children in the selection process may just inspire them to try something new. Pick up the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Local Food Guide, or download the latest version here.
By the way, you can buy the new Rainbow In My Tummy Family Cookbook at www.rainbowinmytummy.org. It features all kinds of delicious, healthy and kid-approved recipes that you can make at home.
Rainbow in My Tummy is a nutrition enrichment program created by the Verner Center for Early Learning. Rainbow in My Tummy works with early care and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. For more information, contact Rainbow in My Tummy Director Bronwen McCormick at 298-0808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.