Monday, June 8, 2009

Making "Greens" Palatable (even to kids!)

When I was growing up (here in the South), I thought "greens" were disgusting. Always cooked to death, always made with strong-tasting greens like collards or turnip greens, and always served with cornbread. Yuk.

During the past couple of years, though, I've actually begun to acquire a taste for "greens"! Who knew?! I thought I'd share some of my discoveries here because I've realized that my journey to greens-appreciation is one that many kids might also find more palatable (not to mention those other adults who, like me, didn't reach adulthood with a fullblown greens-appreciation). Read on for some tips on introducing leafy greens into your family's diet (the category of "greens" in my mind now includes far more than collards and turnip greens; any of the following are covered in this amazingly nutritious and inexpensive group: bok choy, Chinese flowering cabbage, mustard greens, spinach, spinach-mustard hybrid, baby bok choy, cabbage, napa cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, even Romaine lettuce,....).

  1. Not everyone is going to like greens. Let's face it, folks, not everyone is going to like everything. One of my children really seems to like vegetables, including greens. His identical twin does not. Go figure.
  2. Taste buds change as we get older. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Your child may like something this year that he turned his nose up at last year. You may like something different this year than you did last year.
  3. Try baby greens. They have a milder taste and texture than their older counterparts. Good ones in this category include baby bok choy, baby spinach, and young mustard greens (stems no bigger than 1/8-inch).
  4. Try a variety of greens. While in general, leafy greens taste similar to each other, the greens category includes a large range of tastes. Some are downright bitter, while others have a very mild taste.
  5. Try a variety of cooking methods. Very young greens can be used in salads. Cabbages and lettuces can be used in salads even when quite mature. Try stir-fried greens that are only cooked until barely tender. Fully cooked greens can be strong tasting, but they can also be disguised in soups. Try adding chopped, cooked greens to omelets or quiches.
  6. Try a variety of cooking "partners." All greens that are cooked have a great affinity for garlic, most work well with ginger, and many work with Asian treatments in general (soy sauce, rice wine, etc.). Many greens work well with eggs and cheese. Beans are a natural accompaniment to garlick-y, salty greens. My family likes greens best in stir-fries with a slightly sweet Asian sauce and in egg/cheese dishes like quiche.
  7. Grow some: you're always more motivated to eat something you've grown yourself.
  8. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down! Cabbages and lettuces with sweet salad dressings are usually more kid-friendly. Pickled cabbage is also sweet (and nicely crunchy). Use Asian rice wine or sherry in your stir-fries to add a faintly sweet note. I know people who even put greens in their sweet fruit breakfast smoothies (I haven't worked up the courage to try this yet).
  9. A dollop of Ranch dressing makes the salad go down! My kids LOVE Ranch dressing. I just grin and bear it because they're consuming lettuce and spinach with their generous dollop of dressing.
  10. Finally, remember that broccoli is also a highly nutritious part of the cabbage family! There are ways around needing to eat a big bowl of collards or pile of stir-fried bok choy and still get some good nutrients in those little tummies.
Some of our family's favorite greens recipes that are on or referenced in full tummies:

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