Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series on children eating vegetables. The series explores ways to highlight a vegetable's flavor and appearance as a way to work around the resistance some picky eaters have to trying unfamiliar vegetables.
I am OK with radishes. Really, I am. They have a peppery bite, a bright color and a pleasant crunch.
But I've never really taken them seriously on their own. They always seemed like a side show — a garnish — to a salad or some other important dish.
But radishes as the main event? Hmm ... why?
Because radishes are nutritious, of course, and tasty when roasted or slow cooked. And there's the eye appeal — most grocery-store radishes have a bright-white interior wrapped in a magenta-red skin.
Which makes them perfect for children or other picky eaters. Because before we eat with our mouths, we "eat" with our eyes. If food doesn't look appealing, we take a pass.
Why try radishes?
Radishes are an early summer crop, but they can still be found in farmers markets. And, of course, there are radishes year-round in the grocery store.
Nutritionally, they are terrific. For one thing, radishes are a low-calorie food. A half-cup serving has only 10 calories. They are also high in fiber, low in cholesterol and almost fat free.
Radishes are a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese, according to my favorite nutrition-data source — Self.com — and a very good source of vitamin C, folate and potassium.
Plus, they fight cancer. Radishes belong to the family of cruciferous vegetables, along with broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, mustard and watercress. Like other crucifers, radishes contain phytochemicals that help prevent the formation of carcinogens in the body.
Another interesting tidbit about radishes — they are 95 percent water. That's more water content than tomatoes or watermelon.
One nutritional downside to radishes is that they are packed with carbs, most of which are sugar. Still, at 2 grams per serving, it's not much sugar — about the same as cauliflower, celery, green beans or iceberg lettuce.
Eat radishes raw
Traditional recipes for radishes fall along three lines — add raw, sliced radishes to lettuce salads; make tea sandwiches with raw slices; or saute sliced radishes in butter with salt and pepper.
"I've done little finger sandwiches with a French breakfast variety on pumpernickel slathered with butter and some fresh dill," said John Walla, executive chef of Black Eyed Susan restaurant locations in Hagerstown and Halfway. "I do some (beef) tongue tacos with radish. Especially the hotter radishes."
He also suggested adding thin slices to a slaw to add some crunch.
Walla said when he was a boy, his father grew radishes at home.
"We would eat them right out of the garden," he said. "And since radishes grow fairly quickly, if your child grows them in a pot, they're more likely to try them."
Walla said his own children had no problem eating radishes or other vegetables.
"Start them off early. Most young kids don't mind eating things," he said. "Whatever we (parents) were eating, the kids would get some of it. We didn't make it a point to introduce new vegetables."
Sarah Glunz is an in-store nutritionist with Giant Food Stores, which owns Martins Food Markets in and around Hagerstown. Glunz said she has no children of her own, but she gets to eat with her six nieces and nephews, some of whom are picky eaters.
But her most common personal experience with picky eaters is with her clients, Glunz said, when parents bring in their kids to be told why they should eat more vegetables.
"You can't appeal to kids in that way. You can't tell them it will prevent diabetes, because that's (not what they care about)," she said. "I like to talk about colors in food, about eating many different colors. Radishes work really well, because you don't see that pinkish, reddish color in many other foods."
Glunz suggested different ways to cook radishes:
- Roasting — Quarter medium radishes, toss with olive oil and thyme and roast for 20 minutes in a 450-degree oven. Then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
- Stir fry — Dice radishes and stir fry with chicken or shrimp, broccoli, onion, carrots or other vegetables.
- Make juice or a smoothie — Glunz mixes vegetables and fruits in her juices. Well-washed radish greens can also be used in smoothies. The greens are very nutritious, but use gloves when handling. There are tiny thorns that can irritate skin.
- Serve with dips — Glunz said she will serve raw vegetables with a variety of diverse dips: a Greek yogurt dip, a spicy peanut butter dip; a blue cheese dressing. This encourages kids to try more veggies.
- Cook and mash them — Roasted radishes are mellower than raw radishes. Add butter, milk, salt, pepper — whatever you would add to mashed potatoes.
Be patient with picky eaters
Glunz said when picky eaters object to trying a certain vegetable, they will not change their minds quickly. She encouraged parents to be patient.
"A lot of parents, they'll serve a vegetable once, and a child refuses to eat it, and the parent never serves it again," Glunz said. "The theory is you have to serve a (new) vegetable 12 times to a child before they try it."
Ellyn Satter developed a framework for helping parents struggling with kids who refuse to eat some foods. Satter, a registered dietitian and author of "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family," called her system the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
"I created that principle working in a clinical practice (40 years ago)," she said. "It's accepted as best practice by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It's become standard."
Satter said the key to here approach is understanding who is responsible for what at meal time. In her model, the parent is responsible for three things — what, when and where a child is fed. Children are responsible for two things — whether they eat and how much they eat.
That means parents set the agenda — the meal setting and the food — but children do the rest.
"Fundamental to parents' job of feeding their children is trusting their children to decide how much and whether to eat," she said. "Let the child eat fast or slow, a lot or a little, steadily or stop and start."
Meals should be happy times
Satter said the relationship that develops between parent and child over food ripples out to other aspects of family life. When a parent lets a child make choices about food, the child gets practice in exercising authority and learning about consequences.
"Children from very early on have a sense of their own autonomy. If parents do their jobs with feeding, children will do their jobs with eating," she said.
Glunz said meal times should be happy times. Of course, not everyone likes the same foods, and that can lead to disagreements. But keep priorities straight, she said.
"Meal time shouldn't be allowed to get to be a battleground. It should never get to the point where you're yelling," she said. "It's better to encourage children in a kind, loving way. The minute it becomes a battle, it becomes worse."
Nutritional information — http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (see cook's note)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 small Napa cabbage, cut into fine shreds
1 stalk celery, cut on an angle into thin slices
1 cup strong-flavored greens such as kale, radish or beet greens, cut into fine shreds
5 medium radishes, cut into thin slices, then halved
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon
To make vinaigrette, in large mixing bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard, pepper or pepper flakes and salt and pepper.
In separate bowl, combine cabbage, celery, greens, radishes and onion. Toss vegetables, then add to bowl containing dressing and toss again. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cook's note: Can use other vinegar than balsamic.
Makes about 4 cups.
6 to 8 medium red radishes, chopped
1/2 fresh jalapeno chile, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper
Put all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.
Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a day.
Makes about 3 cups.
Chris' blue-green smoothie
6 fresh radish leaves, chopped in half
1 cup water or milk
3 tablespoons yogurt, vanilla or plain
1 medium carrot or 3 or 4 baby carrots
1 tablespoon protein powder
1/2 cup blueberries, frozen
Wear gloves when handling fresh radish leaves. Leaves can have tiny thorns that irritate skin.
Pour the water or milk, chopped radish leaves and yogurt in the blender. Add remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.
If some ingredients don't sink into blender blades, turn off blender and push ingredients down with a long spoon.
Cook's note: May add 3 or 4 ice cubes to make a chilled smoothie.
Serves 1 or 2.
Sugar and spice radish chips
10 to 15 radishes, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the radishes as thinly as possible. Place slices in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave for about 30 seconds on high to soften them up. Drain on paper towel for 2 minutes.
In separate, larger bowl, combine olive oil, honey, sugar and spices. Add drained radish slices and mix well to coat.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread out radish slices on sheet. Do not stack on top of each other.
Cook for 15 minutes, then remove the tray and turn radish slices over. Reduce oven temperature to 300 and bake for another 20 minutes.
Serve immediately alone or with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt.
Makes about 2 cups.
1 prebaked pizza crust
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 or 6 medium radishes, sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Place pizza crust on baking sheet or pizza stone.
Brush crust with olive oil. Place thinly sliced radishes on crust, overlapping slightly, and top with salt, freshly ground pepper and cheese.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until cheese melts.
Cook's note: Add other toppings if desired — other vegetables, a protein or more cheese.