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.
We eat with our eyes first.
If foods don't look delicious, we assume they won't be delicious.
That's one of the concepts underlying The Herald-Mail's series on encouraging children to try eating seasonal vegetables.
One way to get a kid to try a new food is to make it look tasty.
This month's vegetable is the whole family of winter squashes, including acorn, butternut and hubbard squashes. They are in the same family as the pumpkin. Like pumpkins, winter squash skins are typically tough and they have bright yellow or orange flesh.
Chunks of cooked squash sitting on a plate might not be appealing to a child. But take a different approach, said Jeff Proulx, supervisor of food and nutrition services for Washington County Public Schools.
"I've got two elementary-age children. They've responded to winter squash by turning their nose up to it," Proulx said. "But then they tried it."
Winter squashes are unique in that they can be served savory or sweet, Proulx said. He has a favorite way to serve winter squash to his kids — whipped, like potatoes.
"One of the most common ways is to boil or steam it, then whip it," he said. "As an accompaniment to a white meat or turkey, sweeter might be better. Add a little brown sugar or cinnamon."
Or make squash into a savory dish, Proulx said. That might go well as a side for red meat or lamb.
"I actually prefer to roast a squash," he said. "Peel and cube and toss it with olive oil. Bake at 375 to 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. Then whip it with garlic, rosemary, a little cracked pepper."
Of course, winter squashes are packed with nutrients. They are a great source of vitamin A, thiamin, vitamin B6 and magnesium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese. On top of that, squashes contain virtually no fat, sodium or cholesterol.
Squash's firm flesh and flexible flavor profile can work to a home cook's advantage. Pureed squash can be added to many foods, Proulx said.
"With a squash, you're talking about the same category as a pumpkin. You could make breads with squash," he said. "Also, there are a couple of niche dairies in the area that make pumpkin ice cream. I would suspect you'd do the same application with squash as with pumpkin."
Pureed squash can replace pumpkin in a pie. It can replace carrots in carrot cake, or it can replace zucchini in zucchini bread. Combine pureed squash and pureed pear as a base for a sweet, spiced soup. Mix chopped tart apples and pureed squash in a dessert crisp.
On the savory side, Proulx suggested try adding pureed squash to spaghetti sauce. It's a concept he got from Jessica Seinfeld's books about hiding vegetables in kids' food.
"We really want kids to know the food in its raw state," Proulx said. "The USDA struggles with that. Do we want to hide (a vegetable) in something else? Or do we want it to be right out front?"
It's the opposite of encouraging kids to eat with their eyes, but if kids simply refuse to eat vegetables, what can a parent do?
Fortunately, winter squashes have that colorful eye appeal. And they work with kids' preference for sweet foods.
"They say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," Proulx said. "Add a little brown sugar to your squash.