When encouraging kids to eat their vegetables there are only two methods you can employ: visible, or hidden. And right up front I’ve got to admit that I’m not a big fan of duplicity. It seems downright sneaky to me to trick any kid into eating healthy, though I’m down with some of the struggles parents go though. Every kid is different, and for those of you who think our Stout Sprouts line up in front of the produce drawer every night, I’m going to surprise you by sharing that our girls are no different than most children. Many veggies get a good going over before they make it past anybody’s lips, and I’m extremely cautious using any sort of herb (aka flavor!) in preparing our meals.
Yes, I’ve put baby spinach into smoothies before, but our Sprouts turned into tiny interrogators and I had to fess up. Guess those blueberries just didn’t camouflage the spinach well enough — either in taste or in color. So now I just cop to what I’m doing and hope it goes over well if they are willing to give it a try. Plus, I feel strongly about helping them make healthy food choices, which they are less likely to do on their own if they don’t know what they are eating.
All is not lost, however, if you’ve got a picky eater and you’re still committed to going the visible route. Sure, the veggies are right out there in plain sight, but it doesn’t mean you can’t employ a little sleight of hand and some creative marketing. (I am a marketer by profession, after all!) Veggie purées are one option. They are less intimidating to some youngsters — like graduating from baby food in teeny tiny steps — and still preserve the taste of the vegetable, which can be all-important in transitioning a child to the point when they accept a steamed vegetable, in all its glory, on their dinner plate.
But if you’re going to purée a vegetable, be adventurous. Puréed carrots will probably be embraced just as readily as steamed carrots. Save that veggie for a nice soup, with a hint of ginger when junior is ready. Instead, choose something that your child may not universally love. For instance: cauliflower.
Here’s another hint: there are vegetables out there — cauliflower being one — that come in a rainbow of colors. It was, not coincidentally, the fact that I saw purple and orange cauliflowers lined up beside the traditional white ones at our local Whole Foods that led me to put them into our cart. What self-respecting kid, after all, wouldn’t jump at the chance to eat something new with such a vibrant hew? (OK, you don’t really need to answer that, because Daughter 2 was right there with you with her cocked eyebrow and pursed lips.)
You’ll be relieved to learn that the purple and orange cauliflower variants aren’t dyed, either. Their pigments are natural mutations that, once discovered, were bred back into traditional white cauliflower by some enterprising farmers starting in the mid 1970s. I didn’t realize that initially color was bred out of cauliflower as they first became a popular vegetable in Italy, perhaps in the 1500s…so it makes a certain amount of sense that we’ve come full circle, bringing color back into this vegetable.
Cauliflower — like broccoli, kale, and cabbage — is part of the Brassica oleracae species in the Brassicaceae family of vegetables. Already quite high in vitamin C, folate and fiber, the yellow and purple varieties of cauliflower bring additional antioxidant properties to the table via their natural pigments.
These nutrient-dense veggies deserve to be on your table, and puréeing them with plenty of dairy pleases many a palate, kids’ palates included. Note that we’re not going low-cal with this side-dish, but are broadening and enhancing the taste of the cauliflower by adding in that flavor-booster, fat — sometimes with full-fat dairy products, and sometimes with lower-fat products. Think of these as mashed potato’s prettier cousin who actually is watching her waistline a little bit. And it’s not like you’ll be eating the entire pot by yourself in one sitting, though these are tasty enough that you might be tempted.
This vegetarian dish is a snap to prepare and our Sprouts pitched in by washing the cauliflower, helping to measure and pour ingredients into the food processor, and taking turns puréeing our purple side dish. That, by the way, is another kid-friendly tip that I’ve likely shared before: the little people in your house are much more likely to try a new veggie if they help prepare it.
While you’re at it, try giving this dish a creative name. “Perfect Purple Purée” worked well in our house, though I was tempted to harken back to Halloween and call it “Monster Mash.” But whatever you call it, and whatever cauliflower color you choose to purée, have some fun with it! Kids love fun, and eventually, they may even love their cauliflower too.
Purple Cauliflower Purée
1 – 2 peeled garlic cloves
A drizzle of olive oil (1 scant teaspoon)
1 head of cauliflower — we used purple, but you can use any variety you’d like — washed and cut into large florets
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Begin by roasting the garlic cloves on the stovetop in a covered sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil over low heat.
Cook until softened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower florets in a large stock pot over two inches of boiling water until they are quite soft and a paring knife inserted into a cauliflower stalk meets no resistance: 10 – 15 minutes. Use a steamer basket if you have one, which will allow the cauliflower to steam and not boil, allowing fewer of the nutrients to leach out of the cauliflower and into the water.
Drain the cauliflower and, in the work bowl of a food processor or sturdy blender, combine the cauliflower, roasted garlic cloves, butter, cream cheese, parmesan cheese and buttermilk and process in a series of quick pulses into a thick purée. (If using a blender, be careful when processing hot foods as the heat can force the lid off of the blender when it is on, which causes a huge mess and can burn you. Use a towel to firmly hold the lid in place, and gradually work from a lower setting to a higher setting.)
Taste the purée and correct for seasoning, adding additional salt and freshly ground black pepper if desired.
Serves: 8 – 10 as a side dish
Kid rating: five stars from Daughter 1, who finished her portion at dinner and then asked, on two consecutive days, for me to pack it in a thermos for lunch. Daughter 2, however, is awarding no stars to this dish. The one bite she deigned to take (largely because she couldn’t say no to the color) did not meet expectations. And this was a good lesson: despite the color, and despite the fun presentation and name, some kids just won’t like this dish. That’s OK as long as they take a taste…it can take multiple times of just tasting something before it becomes an accepted dish. Or, like Daughter 1, your kids may dive right in. You won’t know until you try!
Parent rating: four stars. I like that this dish gives me an entirely new and fun way to serve cauliflower. I’ll continue to tinker a little bit though, since I would prefer a version with a bit more flavor (maybe some toasted cumin next time?). When I put this in front of my husband without telling him the story behind it, he was a little suspicious…purple mash is not something he’s used to being served, and rightly so. In the end, I think he would have preferred mashed potatoes to mashed cauliflower, but sometimes it’s good to mix things up.