How can I get my kid to eat ... brussels sprouts

November 16, 2011|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • While they are nutritious, brussels sprouts are not generally a favorite for kids. One way to make them more appealing is to roast them in olive oil, minced garlic and balsamic vinegar.
By Chris Copley

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of stories on children eating vegetables. The series explores ways to highlight vegetables' flavor and appearance as a way to work around the resistance some kids have to eating vegetables.

Like many parents, I know I should eat vegetables. So, in the past, whenever my wife, Yolanda, prepared brussels sprouts, I ate them. They were not overcooked, a bit cabbage-y in flavor and tasted OK. But, mostly, I ate them because I knew they were good for me.

And then Yolanda found a recipe that made brussels sprouts taste spectacularly good. Now, I eat them because I love the taste and the crispy texture. Yum.

And that's how kids approach eating — they eat foods because they look good and taste good.

Brussels sprouts are not generally a kid favorite. They're basically mini-cabbages. They are certainly nutritious: a good source of vitamins A, C and K, plus several B vitamins and a variety of minerals, including iron, phosphorus and copper. They are also low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

But how do you get kids to try them? In my wife's recipe (see Yolanda DiFabio's recipe below), you burn them. Well, actually, you roast them.

I talked about cooking brussels sprouts with Chris Grossnickle, chef and owner of Brickyard Cafe in downtown Hagerstown. He said roasting is a good way to go.

"You have to deal with the color and texture of brussels sprouts. If they're overcooked, they get a little slimy and gray," Grossnickle said. "Instead, cut them in half lengthwise, toss them in olive oil and place them face down on a baking sheet. Roast them in the oven at 400 degrees. This keeps the flavor and has a crispy edge."

Kathy Wickert, cooking school coordinator at Martin's Food Market's facility in Camp Hill, Pa., said roasting brussels sprouts bring out their sweetness. It applies to other vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, onions or corn.

Roasting is a perfect approach when trying to make veggies appealing to kids.

"Roasting caramelizes sugars in vegetables that contain sugars," Wickert said. "Like beets. Kids try them roasted, and they like them. It's the funniest thing."

Wickert's "desprouted" recipe, below, calls for taking the sprouts apart, leaf by leaf, and cooking them over high heat on the stove top. The sprout's inner core has a strong flavor, but the leaves are more tender, she said. Cooking the leaves over high heat in a pan is similar to roasting, she said. In her recipe, she accents the sweetness by adding a bit of apple.

"The kids like them better that way. I like them better that way," she said.

But, however they are prepared, Wickert said, one trick to getting kids to try brussels sprouts is simply to include them regularly in family dinners.

"When my kids were young, we put the vegetables on the table and they took them," she said. "Really, you have to get a kid to try something 12 times, and then they'll get a taste for it."

There's another key to getting kids to try brussels sprouts, according to Arleen Shuster, nutritionist with the Women, Infants and Children in Washington County. Parents should lead by example.

"The most important thing to get kids to eat is role-modeling," Shuster said. "A lot of parents don't eat vegetables. They say, 'I don't want my kids to be like me.' But kids learn simply by watching. Kids watch their parents."

She agreed that cooking techniques can make a difference. She likes her mother's method: brown brussels sprouts in butter. But she also warned against overcooking them. Boiling or steaming brussels sprouts for too long a time will release a sulfur taste and smell. Not very palatable.

She also suggested another trick. Give brussels sprouts a new, interesting name.

"There's a book called "I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato,'" Shuster said. "They call mashed potatoes 'clouds from Mount Fuji.' They call tomatoes 'moonsquirters.' Kids like fun names."

Grossnickle had another suggestion for getting kids to eat brussels sprouts: Have them help cook them.

"The real way to get kids interested in vegetables is to get them involved in the kitchen. If they help prepare a dish, they have a vested interest in eating it," he said.

Veggie Annie's roasted brussels sprouts

4 heaping cups brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim the bottoms off the sprouts, and slice the big and medium-sized ones in half vertically, through the stem end. (Don't slice across the equator, or you'll lose lots of leaves.)

Pile them in the middle of an 11-inch-by-17-inch jellyroll pan — a cookie sheet with sides. Drizzle on olive oil, and salt them generously. Toss everything well, and spread out the sprouts in a single layer.

Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring once or twice during the cooking time. They are done when they're tender inside and crispy and browned at the edges.

— Courtesy of Annie "Veggie Annie" Marshall, an organic caterer in Frederick, Md.

Roasted brussels sprouts

2 cups brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 to 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, to taste

Cut sprouts in half from stem to tip.

Heat olive oil in heavy, cast iron pan over medium high heat. Place in pan in a single layer, cut side down for about 20 minutes or until deeply browned. Add olive oil if pan appears too dry. Don't stir sprouts.

When they are scorched on the cut side, heat oven to 425 degrees. Stir garlic into sprouts and place pan in oven. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender to an inserted knife.

Place in a serving bowl, toss with balsamic vinegar and serve.

— Courtesy of Yolanda DiFabio, home cook of Hagerstown

Brussels sprouts desproutted

12 ounces brussels sprouts

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons finely minced peeled and cored apple

1 tablespoon finely minced onion

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons apple cider or juice, optional

Rinse and drain brussels sprouts. Cut about 1/4 inch off the stem end of each sprout and peel off the leaves. When difficult to peel farther, trim off another 1/4 inch and continue removing leaves. Repeat to peel all leaves from sprouts; discard cores.

Add olive oil to a 10- to 12-inch frying pan set over medium-high heat. Add diced apples, onions and brussels sprouts leaves. Stir until the leaves are bright green and slightly wilted, about 4 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and a splash of apple cider or juice if desired.

Serves 4.

— Courtesy of Kathy Wickert, cooking school coordinator for Martin's Food Market

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