I'm delighted to be a new Hidden Valley "Love Your Veggies" Parent Panel Member! I grew up eating Hidden Valley Ranch (and especially Green Goddess) salad dressing that my mom made by adding milk and mayonnaise to the spice packet and shaking it all up in a Mason jar. As a result, I've always held a special place in my culinary heart for Hidden Valley (and only Hidden Valley) Ranch dressing.
As part of my "official duties" I'll be posting throughout the year about specific veggie-related initiatives. Hopefully you'll find them informative. In the interest of transparency and full-disclosure, these posts will always be clearly labeled.
My 9- and 7-year-old daughters will proudly tell anyone who will listen how much they love Brussels sprouts, spinach, lima beans, broccoli, and salad—all manner of vegetables that conventional wisdom would have us believe all kids hate.
I often wonder if kids are inadvertently taught to hate vegetables because we’ve all been conditioned to believe that that’s supposed to the case. With my own family, my children have the benefit of two parents who love all manner of veggies, and I know it’s at least partly because my husband and I were raised by parents who love veggies as well.
With a mother who has also dabbled in vegetarianism, and a father who loves one hot vegetable and a salad (he's a "meat and two veg guy") with dinner, my kids don’t have a choice but to love their veggies. It’s not that I’m doing anything consciously, I’m just raising my kids the way I was raised—to be exposed to a wide-variety of foods and cuisines, to have an appreciation of where food comes from (we visit u-pick farms and participate in a weekly CSA produce delivery), to help prep and cook our meals, and to have to try everything at least once.
Here are my tips for getting kids to eat their veggies
Be upfront—I’m not an advocate of hiding veggies in food. I love them, and want my children to appreciate them for that they are. Start cooking vegetables as “stand alone” items from the time your kids can eat table food. Once you start disguising vegetables, or dousing them in cheesy sauces, it’s harder to go back.
Raw Deal—I have found that my own children love veggies raw—so when they ask for a taste as you are chopping that pepper, radish, fennel bulb, or bunch of broccoli, let them have one. Take advantage of their interest, and if they like it, allow them to sneak another taste—and then remind them often of how much they liked that vegetable.
It’s Hip to Dip!—A great way to let veggies stand on their own and eat them raw (or lightly cooked) is to let kids dip them into their favorite sauce or dressing. With my own children, dipping was a developmental phase. For a time it seemed like everything had to be dipped into something else. If this gets your little ones to eat their vegetables, let them have it. Our favorite dips are: a dish of fragrant, fruity extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with a little sea salt; Hidden Valley Ranch dressing made fresh from the packet—like (as I mention above) my own mom did—with our own milk and mayo; apple or pear sauce; Thai peanut sauce; sun-dried tomato pesto; rosemary-white bean hummus; and tzatziki.
Tis the season—Every summer we institute a Butler family tradition called “The Summer of Trying New Foods.” This is the time of year (when school is out and families tend to have a little more free time) that we encourage our kids to try something new. We’re all in agreement that over the summer, as new foods present themselves, the kids must try at least one bite. They are willing participants because they know that the rest of the year, we lay off. I credit The Summer of Trying New Foods with getting my eldest to finally love mashed potatoes—and it only took four summers of trying (ahem!).
It’s showtime!—I grew up not watching cartoons on Saturday morning, but watching Jacques Pepin on PBS. My brother and I were captivated by his knife skills and to this day, I consider him my first cooking teacher (Well, after my mom, of course.). My brother and I would often be so inspired by what we saw on TV that we’d go immediately to the kitchen to cook something, and amazingly, my mom would let us! My girls love to watch cooking shows like Chopped!, The Barefoot Contessa (a particular fave) and Iron Chef (featuring Hidden Valley partner chef, the amazing, Cat Cora!). As they watch, they are looking at how the chefs handle ingredients—especially the vegetables—and more importantly, they get to see the judges’ or guests’ reactions to the dishes that are prepared. Positive reactions reinforce that the vegetable dish is yummy, and negative reactions are points for discussion. I love to engage my girls in what would make a dish better—and then cook their suggestion to see if they were right! Parents love to poo-poo TV, but for setting an example that food (veggies included) is to be savored and enjoyed, cooking shows can’t be beat!
Be Salad People—I can remember the exact date that my 9-year-old began her love affair with vegetables. To this day, she prefers vegetables over meat and went through a years’-long vegetarian period. When she was about 15-months-old, we took her to dinner at one of our favorite San Francisco haunts, Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack. While we were waiting for our main courses of their famous spaghetti and meatballs, my husband and I shared a garlicky and lip-smackingly-lemony Caesar salad. We didn’t even think to share it with her, but she reached for a taste and that was it. She was instantly hooked—but don’t good Caesar salads do that to you? Despite what we thought were strong flavors (anchovies? yes, please!), she couldn’t get enough and shoveled the spears of romaine into her mouth one after another. What’s not to love about a tasty salad that’s also fun to eat? She’s still a salad freak and it’s all because of that memorable Caesar salad! (And I highly recommend Mollie Katzen’s book Salad People, and making that one particular dish!)
If you have creative tips for getting your kids to eat (and love) their veggies, I'd love to know!