First of all, an observation: our little darlings are very sensitive to appearances. So, if the food does not look “nice” to start with, you've already lost the battle! In other words, if green vegetables don't look attractively green when you put them in front of children, you'll hear, even before they try the food, “It looks yukky, I don't like it!” And who can blame them when “canteen” vegetables are so often a sorry sight: big chunks of khaki-coloured broccoli, cooked to death and still swimming in a pool of murky water – hardly likely to win over adults, let alone children!
Let's stick with broccoli for a moment, as it's a good illustration of the problem we're up against: for even half a chance that children will like it, it needs to be beautifully fresh and green, only just cooked (still with a little “bite”), cut up small, and – above all – good quality.
What to do:1) Cut up to an appropriate size
: the notion of “big” or “small” is different for adults and children. For our purposes, broccoli needs to be cut into small, separate florets – only these tips – about the size of the top joint of your thumb and no larger. Rinse thoroughly.
2) First, boil lightly
: Plunge the broccoli into a large pan of boiling salted water or, better still, chicken stock, for 3 or 4 minutes. Watch for the change in colour to a bright emerald green, then check if cooked by tasting. The broccoli should still be slightly firm. Drain and cool straight away in cold (or even iced) water to stop the cooking (very important). When cool, drain again thoroughly – a salad spinner is the best way of doing this.
3) Add flavour with butter and shallot
: Peel a shallot and chop very finely. Melt a generous knob of butter in a pan, add the shallot, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute (without browning either the butter or the shallot).
4) Second, very brief cooking
: Add the broccoli to the pan and stir well. Heat through (rather than cook any further), salt and pepper lightly, then taste to check the seasoning. Serve immediately, keeping your fingers crossed…
You can also include other food you wish to serve with the vegetables. Here, for example, there are bits of ham added.
Please note: It could well be that when you serve the food, you may need to be firm and use the good old “Taste it first!”
And the last resort?
If all else fails, don't despair! Over time, as we grow up into teenagers, then adults, our tastes change quite dramatically: it was impossible to get my elder son to eat spinach, for example, when he was small. Now he loves it.
You will have realised by now that there is no magic formula to get children to enjoy vegetables, but by making an effort like this, you will at least stand a chance. And, if nothing else, this is the way good restaurants cook and the secret of the colourful and attractive vegetables shown on TV cookery programmes.To sum up:
To appeal to children, vegetables need to be cut up small, look colourful and have plenty of flavour.
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