Root vegetables are nutrient dense foods. They’re economical. They store for a long time. They are found at almost every market around. And they are tremendously versatile. All good reasons to keep them in your kitchen. But, they are often shunned by kids—especially picky kids.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get your kids to eat root veggies daily. As I mentioned early, they are packed with nutrients, including fiber (something most American kids don’t get enough of), minerals and vitamins. But they also contain something else—something special called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are the substances that give plants their color and they are powerful tools in keeping us healthy. Phytonutrients are natural inflammatory ingredients reduce the inflammation that can cause chronic disease, such as asthma, heart disease, joint disease and heart disease, as well as cancer. Phytonutrients also help keep the eyes healthy by protecting you from cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye diseases. Plus, they help strengthen the immune system—important for school-age children who need strong immune systems to ward off the colds, flues and other viruses that seem to thrive in classrooms.
Note: Yes, white potatoes are root veggies. And yes, they are America’s favorite plant food. But when I say “root veggies,” I mean all roots BUT potatoes, which don’t have a lot of nutritive value and, sadly, contribute to high blood sugar. So think sweet potatoes. Think celeriac. Think turnips and rutabagas and burdock and beets. Just don’t think of Russet potatoes.
But back to your kids: How can you get your kids to eat root veggies? Yes, roots are sweet, but many kids think they taste like dirt. Or have a funny after taste. Or, strangely enough, are too sweet.
If you have one of these kids, don’t give up. A daily serving of root vegetables—any root, from carrot to beets to rutabaga—is so essential to your child’s short-term and long-term health, that it warrants your persistence. In other words, keep trying to find ways to get root veggies into your kid. Here are 5 tricks that work with my own kids:
* Serve them raw. Carrot sticks taste different than steamed carrots. Which taste different than roasted carrots. Which taste different than sautéed or braised or stir-fried carrots. One of my kids will grudgingly eat root veggies raw and yet won’t go near a cooked root. The crunchy texture and clean, uncomplicated taste of raw root veggies makes them an easier sell for kids who loathe cooked vegetables. A few raw roots to try: Jicama, young turnip (yummy raw!), carrots, and radish. Serve with a side of hummus, white bean dip, guacamole or salsa if that will entice your kid to finish his veggies.
* Cube them small and roast them until caramelized. Caramelized food is irresistible to both adults and children. Take advantage of this by cubing a variety of root veggies (I like beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips) into ¼-inch to 1/2-inch cubes. Preheat the oven to 425, dump the root cubes in a mixing bowl and toss with just barely enough extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil to glisten—as well as salt and pepper to taste—and lay in a single later on one or more baking sheets. Place in the oven and roast until well-carmelized (almost burnt). I don’t even turn them. I simply stick them in the oven and allow them to roast for 20 or so minutes.
* Puree them and sneak them into things. Each week I boil or bake (wrapped in foil and put in a 350 oven) a few root veggies. Once they are soft, I puree them in a food processor until they are a smooth, silky paste. I then add a tablespoon or so of root puree to my recipes. Meat loaf, chili, soups, pancakes, muffins, meatballs, salad dressing, smoothies—you name it, it’s probably a great place to sneak in a tablespoon or two of puree. It’s a great under-the-radar way to give your kid the phytonutrients his or her body can use to stay healthy, without blasting them with obvious root veggie taste. Note: If I can’t use all the puree within three days, I’ll freeze the remaining by spooning it into an ice cube tray and stashing it in the freezer. Anytime I have a dish that needs a bit of root puree, I just pop out an puree cube and add it to the recipe.
* Shred them. My kids and my husband are more likely to eat roots that are shredded than almost any other way. It’s a fact. Shred a carrot or beet or parsnip or rutabaga or anything else, then add the grated veggie to potato pancakes, raw salads or tuck it into a taco or slip it onto a sandwich. Or, give it a fast stir-fry in butter or walnut oil, or enjoy it tossed with a bit of vinaigrette for a fast side salad.
* Make them into fries. Who are we kidding? Fries made with a rutabaga or a carrot or a sweet potato will not taste the same as a fry made with a white potato. But that doesn’t mean kids aren’t more likely to eat a turnip fry than they are a boiled, mashed turnip. To make root fries, cut the roots into “fries”, toss with a bit of oil and salt, spread flat on a baking sheet, and cook at 425 for 15 minutes or so, until fork-tender and starting to caramelize. Serve with ketchup or any other favorite dip.