Sneaking greens under your kid’s noses and into their mouths can be a nearly impossible task, and one that almost always ends in a suppertime-standoff at the dinner table, with a pile of limp, cold, and untouched broccoli and lots of tears.
Heck – who are we kidding – sometimes sneaking enough greens into our meals that are pleasing to our supposed ‘adult’ palates can be a struggle. I think we’ve all had days where we suck down a spinach salad or order a side of collard greens, kale, or Brussels sprouts just because we know it’s the better choice – and not necessarily because we think it tastes good.
‘Greening’ up your cooking routine does not mean that you have to suffer; there are so many easy ways to sneak greens into your meals with very little effort at all, and without any dreaded tantrums. Here are my top ten favorites:
- Herbs! Use them, and use them frequently. Herbs add such a lovely dimension to meals, and don’t forget that even though they are small, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrition. A sprinkling of parsley on a baked potato, a smattering of cilantro in soups, and tucking some sage underneath the skin of a roast chicken – these are all ways to get a bit of green into otherwise plain foods.
- Roast, roast, roast! While I think everyone has a memory of the taste – and smell! – of granny’s Brussels sprouts that were boiled away into a mushy oblivion, those same Brussels sprouts turn into downright divine little orbs of deliciousness when they are halved, tossed in a bit of olive oil and salt, and roasted under high heat (at least 425F) for 15-20 minutes.
- Though shalt not fear olive oil. Olive oil is heart healthy and a veggie’s best friend. Where butter can overwhelm and bog down a pile of spinach, a big handful tossed into a searing hot pan filled with a drizzle of olive oil and tossed about till it just starts wilting is divine. Finish with a sprinkle of minced fresh garlic and a pinch of sea salt and you’ve got a home run side dish.
- Blend it up! When you’re making your morning strawberry-banana smoothie, toss in a few kale leaves that (removed the thick fibrous ribs first). Blend the smoothie till it’s super smooth, and name it something cool – a ‘green monster’, ‘monster juice’, or ‘swamp smoothie’ is more appealing to any six year old than a pile of leaves on his or her breakfast platter.
- Broccoli is not the devil. Like I said before, if you face a child (or anyone for that matter!) with a pile of pale, stinky, steamed broccoli, I don’t blame them for putting up a fight – frankly, I would too. Toss those florets with some olive oil and salt and roast them at 425F till the crowns are singed and the stalks are barely tender, then finish them off with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Broccoli hater, meet future broccoli lover.
- Say Cheese! We all know that cheese makes just about anything better, and with green vegetables, there is no exception. Halve your noodles for homemade mac’n’cheese and stir in a pound or so of fresh spinach leaves. The spinach will wilt down in the hot cheese sauce, and make a delicious and healthy counterpoint to an otherwise not-so-nutritious meal.
- Breakfast is ready! Quiches, egg scrambles, and breakfast wraps are all great places to sneak sautéed spinach, chard, kale, and green peppers, and almost every egg preparation I have had benefits from the addition of some fresh herbs. With a tiny bit of cheese and just a few sausage crumbles, eggs are a perfect hiding place for heart healthy greens.
- Create good habits. All sorts of research has been done on how eating a small salad before a meal leads you to eat less. Get in the habit of serving a small salad before every meal – and be sure to switch it up! There is no quicker way to reinforce veggie-hatred in a skeptic’s mind than a plate of watery iceberg lettuce, so start offering up piles of peppery arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon, plates of spinach with thin sliced red onion and blue cheese crumbles, and tender Boston lettuce gussied up with a few sliced strawberries or red grapes. The one rule – everyone must at least try it.
- Sneaky ‘sgetti. A garlicky tomato sauce is the perfect place to hide your greens – and lots of them! Spinach will cook down to nearly invisible status, and green peppers are a naturally delicious counterpoint to a meat-heavy sauce. Cut your veggies into tiny pieces that won’t overwhelm or stick out, and you’ve got yourself a super easy opportunity to sneak veggies into your supper without a fuss.
- And lastly, experiment!!! It is going to take everyone awhile to adjust, and realize that greens can really be good for you. I am a firm believer in the ‘exposure’ theory, which theorizes that kids (and maybe even adults) can need up 15-20 exposures (sight, touch, taste, and smell) to something to finally warm up to it as a new food. It makes sense to me – to imagine, there was once a time I tasted my dad’s wine and spit it out! (My how things have changed!). Keep trying and keep presenting your family with interesting and appealing preparations of greens, and eventually your whole family will hopefully start to experiment.
Here are some links to some great veggie dishes: