Have you guys RSVP’d to Wednesday’s Zmoms facebook chat yet? Today, I’m honored to have Zmom, best selling author, and nationally recognized health expert, Frances Largeman-Roth, here talking about ways to add some color to your family meals.
Last fall my daughter Willa’s preschool class studied “the colors.” They talked about the various colors of the rainbow, identified them in nature, painted them, and generally absorbed themselves in color awareness. Of course, as any curious toddler would, Willa began to point out colors on her plate more and more.
Since her diet sometimes trends toward beige, I was delighted at her sudden interest in more vibrant foods like yellow peppers and star fruit. And I realized that this new fascination was my ticket to getting her—and our whole family—to amp up the color of our diets.
Our Journey Into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
As a dietitian I have long known that including lots of brightly pigmented foods in the diet is the healthiest way to eat. Fruits and vegetables contain compounds that reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, some cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and obesity. But with extremely busy schedules and ever shrinking time to sit down and enjoy meals together, most of our family meals were thrown together, and getting a range of colors in each meal often fell by the wayside.
Indeed, most Americans are extremely challenged when it comes to getting enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. A 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 26% of Americans are getting the recommended three servings a day of vegetables. We do slightly better in the fruit department—33% of us eat the suggested two servings daily. I wasn’t happy with the variety on our plates and even a nice glass of red wine couldn’t really make up for what our meals lacked. It was time for a change.
After a bit of arm-twisting, I convinced my husband that we should sign up for a share in our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). We had considered it before, but the initial investment always felt prohibitive and adding another “must do” to our schedule seemed daunting.
We finally made the commitment and signed up for a fruit, vegetable, egg and flower share every other week. The pick up spot is at a local community garden in our Brooklyn neighborhood, and since we live on the 8th floor of an apartment building, I figure that these bi-weekly trips to pick up our goodies are about as close to gardening as I’m going to come for a while.
My 13-month old, Leo, is still pretty much stroller-bound on these trips, but our curious 3 and a half year old, Willa, loves to stand with me in line as I weigh our arugula, potatoes and apples. Even if she never tries kohlrabi or escarole (a bit of a stretch for most little kids), at least she has seen them close up and knows that they’re vegetables. Many kids in urban areas haven’t been exposed to the farm-to-table phenomenon and think that broccoli originates from the frozen section of the grocery store. Participating in a CSA is one way to help show your kids the connection between agriculture and what’s on their plate.
We joined the CSA in June and it runs until just before Thanksgiving. And while I can’t say that we’ve used up every single root vegetable and weedy-looking herb that we’ve carried home in our tote bags, these twice monthly mini harvests have helped bring more color to our table.
If you’re faced with 3 pounds of donut peaches, as we were in July, you figure out something to do with them (smoothies and crumbles). And if you’re staring down one and a half pounds of arugula and you’ve already had several salads, you get creative (super peppery pesto!).
All this bounty definitely provided me with inspiration over the summer as I worked on my upcoming cookbook, Eat Your Colors (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, January 2014). I figured that if I was struggling to add more color and nutrition to meals, so were many other families.
I hope the tips below inspire you to paint your plates with a delicious spectrum. My focus is not on specific nutrients, but rather on just getting more fruits and vegetables each day. Since none of us are getting enough, there’s no way to go but up! And while I’m not a fan of “hiding” healthful ingredients from kids or husbands, if you want to throw something into the mix without calling particular attention to it, I won’t tell a soul.
Getting kids to eat jewel-toned berries and cherries isn’t much of a task, but beets or radishes are a different story. This is where a little creativity can come in handy. Try grating beets, radishes and any other firm vegetable with a microplane grater and offering it as a topping for tacos, a filling for wraps and burritos, and even as a spring roll filling.
Summer’s heat offers lots of opportunities for brightly colored salads, but since many kids—and adults—are not salad fans, you might want to try blending up veggies for a gazpacho. While tomatoes of any hue can still be the star, you can throw orange peppers in the blender, as well as orange-fleshed melons like cantaloupe or Crenshaw.
And in winter, cooked butternut and other squashes are a great addition to muffins and quickbreads. Just mash the cooked squash and fold a cup of it into your batter. It can help replace half of the oil or butter in a recipe, plus it adds moisture, texture and rich flavor to baked goods.
Yellow vegetables and fruits tend to be sweet and are usually pretty palatable to kids—think bananas and corn on the cob. But if you’re trying to introduce your family to something like yellow bell peppers, just try using them in something they already love—maybe a fresh salsa in summer or chili in winter.
Once they’re past the baby stage, many children have an aversion to green foods. And rightfully so—in the days when we were hunters and gatherers, kids had to forage for edible plants and some green things are poisonous and should be greeted with caution. But that won’t help you get your four year-old to eat spinach!
What might help is making a “special” green drink with your kids. You can throw in fresh cucumber, celery, fennel, kale, spinach and avocado, plus anything that will help sweeten the deal, like apple, pear, or banana. Little kids can give you their order and then mom or dad can whiz the blender. Older kids can get hands on—just make sure they always put the lid on tightly.
Like with red, most blue and purple fruits are quite appealing, including blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. But eggplant and even purple potatoes can be a tough sell for the younger crowd. That’s when I like to use a food that’s pretty much universally loved—pizza. It can be a vehicle of introduction for lots of different ingredients, from asparagus to zucchini.
Purple potatoes have such an amazing color that most kids will think it’s cool to add them to a pizza. Just partially boil them before slicing, topping and baking on a pie. The potatoes play especially well with feta and gorgonzola cheeses and crumbled turkey bacon. For eggplant, slice it thinly, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Then bake, grill or broil until tender, and layer on a pizza with fresh mozzarella and thyme. Lots of people don’t like the spongy texture of eggplant, but once you’ve applied some heat and fat to it, it caramelizes and becomes delicious.