Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kid-Friendly Citrus: Some Tips and Tricks

We try to eat seasonal fruit whenever possible. That means we truly gorge on strawberries during the month of May and eat them rather sparingly the rest of the year. Do we miss them? Not when peach season hits in all its juiciness. Then, the crisp mult-dimensional apple flavors take over. And then the perfect winter complement arrives: citrus! Just like other seasonal fruit, citrus fruit is far better this time of year than other times (and it packs a nice vitamin C punch right when we need it most).

Unfortunately, the poor orange doesn't make its way to a kid's plates as often as other fruits. Who wants to peel a million oranges, pull off any rough strings, then cut them into bite-sized pieces? It takes so darned long. Think again!

Here's a quick primer to citrus types and some strategies for getting them onto your kids' plates more often.

Grapefruit: by far, the best grapefruit are red/pink (this refers to the INSIDE color; the outside is still yellowy-pink) Texas grapefruit. If you can get them, bypass all other choices. Trust me on this. How to eat: slice in half through its equator. Slice around each section (painstaking work, I'll admit) and spoon out into a little bowl. For older children, let them spoon their own sections out. This really doesn't take that long; I usually cut ours up while toast is toasting or even while the kids are already eating their cereal. My kids like grapefruit plain (as long as it's that sweet Texas grapefruit), but you can always sprinkle a bit of sugar on it to tempt little palates.

Naval Oranges: generally, the best naval oranges for eating out of hand (as opposed to juicing) come from California. We like the giant ones Sam's Club usually has in stock (in 10-pound bags!). But you can find CA oranges in most grocery stores. How to eat: score the skin (not cutting into the flesh) twice around--in perpendicular lines--making an "x" over each end of the orange. The peel will come off easily in four big pieces. If cutting up for young children, split the orange into two halves and cut the sections horizontally across into small pieces. Then, separate the individual sections. This saves you a lot of time over splitting the sections apart and then cutting each section into smaller pieces.

Tangerines: We like tangerines, we really do. But, honestly, these are my last choice in the citrus line-up. They have a wonderfully perfumy flavor that is very different from the rest, but they are a PAIN to deseed for young children.

Clementines: Readily available this time of year (even though they frequently come from Spain), these are the easiest of the group to peel. They are also usually seedless, juicy, and a perfect size for small hands! How to eat: Older children can peel their own! Peel for younger children and split into two halves. Slice horizontally through each half once. Separate sections into individual pieces.

Mandarins: Available at places like Sam's club. These are similar in size to clementines, but a bit harder to peel. They're not quite as juicy, but they have a terrific flavor (my kids love these best). How to eat: Older children can peel their own! Peel for younger children and split into two halves. Slice horizontally through each half once. Separate sections into individual pieces.

Canned Mandarin Oranges: for very young children, this is a perfect option. Citrus fruits can have hard to chew sections, so these canned slices are an excellent choice. They have the same vitamin C and can be found packed in juice instead of syrup (Kroger brand actually).

A word on cost: sometimes, the price of a 5-pound box of clementines looks prohibitive. They go on sale around here frequently for $6/box. If you think about it, that's only $1.20/pound--what you pay for most in season fruit. Berries are always more than that; apples are often, too, unless they're on sale. Even when on sale in most stores, apples rarely drop below $1/pound. So, indulge in that box of easy-to-peel and kid-friendly citrus. Your kids will love them, and you'll have a nice change from the usual apples.

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