The Veggie Challenge

Jack devoured vegetables when he was a baby. Platefuls of cooked veggies. Just plain. Not buttered, coated in cheese or sautéed. No joke. I used to exhale with gratitude for Jack’s eating habits. One less battle to fight.

That was true until he turned two. My baby grew into a warrior. Battling his parents over everything. I’m convinced his favorite phrase is, “No, don’t want to ________” (insert whatever I’ve suggested).  Terrible two’s doesn’t do the year justice. More like borderline schizophrenic toddler with superhuman strength.

Jack’s desire to question and brawl over everything even joins us at the table. One night he can’t eat the carrots quick enough. The next he’s literally gagging on them.

“What’s this?” He asks. Every. Single. Night.
“Cauliflower. You ate it all last night,” I respond.
“Me don’t like cauliflower,” he snubs. Lips frowning. Briskly flips away his plate.

Living with a curious and strong-willed toddler has made the hubs and I pretty darn clever at mind games and sneak attacks. After all, we’re in a war, right?

Justin and I both enjoy fresh veggies. And I’m determined to retain Jack’s interest (or at least trick him). I’ve found a few simple tools that help include and prep vegetables for meals/snacks:

Fresh, Frozen or Canned?
A physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Texas said that frozen vegetables maybe more healthful than some fresh produce sold in supermarkets. Frozen veggies are often picked at peak ripeness and most full of nutrients, while fresh are typically picked before ripeness to be shipped around the country.

On the other side, frozen veggies are blanched or steamed to kill bacteria prior to freezing. Such techniques cause nutrients like vitamins C and B to leach out.

A New York Times article stated that canned peas and carrots lost 85 to 95 percent of their vitamin C within a six-month period.  Plus, canned veggies often are full of added sodium to preserve veggies.

So what’s the solution? Buy in-season veggies fresh and off-season frozen.

Pick 'n Choose
Look for broccoli that is sturdy with dark-green spears and light buds. No yellowing. With cauliflower, choose tight white heads without brown or yellow spots. Shop for asparagus with sturdy spears and tight heads, ends shouldn’t appear desiccated or woody. Fresh asparagus will snap when bent.

Corn should be in pale to dark green husks with moist silks and heavy to the hand. Pick small, thin, firm green beans. Summer and Zucchini Squash shouldn’t have breaks, gashes or soft spots. Smaller squashes are sweeter and have fewer seeds.

Chop ‘em Up!
Cutting up vegetables and storing in clear Tupperware makes it easier to include them in meals regularly. It also increases the chance that you’ll actually cook with them.

It's All in the Prep
A 2007 study by The Journal of Food Science concluded that microwaved and pressure-cooked vegetables retained 90 percent of their vitamin C. Steaming and boiling caused a 22 to 34 percent loss of vitamin C. Steam or microwave your veggies to reduce the loss of water-soluble vitamins.

Boiling tip: Add a pinch of salt to boiling water to enhance the flavor.
Steaming tip: Add cinnamon sticks, lemongrass or ginger to steaming process to add flavor.
Sautéing tip: Cut into bite-size to cook all the way though. Heat the pan first over relatively high heat, add oil. Then, add veggies once oil shimmers.
Stir-frying tip: Best done with canola oil. Toss in olive oil once finished to add flavor.
Grilling tip: Use tongs to hold veggies over stove’s gas cook top to grill veggies all year long.

Sneaky, Stealth-like Veggies
I love anything that tricks Jack. So grinding up and stirring veggies into a pasta sauce brings out my evil laugh. Another creative idea is to chop up and add veggies into scrambled eggs. A favorite stealth attack is to steam vegetables and stir into Mac ‘n Cheese or rice with cream of chicken soup.

For more information on shopping, preparing and cooking healthy vegetables, visit Eating Well’sGuide to Cooking 20 Vegetables.

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