We have so much to celebrate with our children during the holiday season, including special foods. As much as I loved sweets as a child, I also loved it when my mother would prepare raw vegetables during the holidays. Even though many of the vegetables were those that my sisters and I ate year-round, vegetables served specially cut and paired with a dip along with black olives, pimento olives, or mini gherkin pickles made a vegetable platter full of colorful, kid-friendly appetizers.
Fast-forward to present day, and most families tell me that their children don’t eat vegetables. This makes me upset because it means that children are missing out on so many great flavors and textures. They might never know the fun of eating black olives off of their fingertips, or biting into a spicy red radish rose, or even popping an ice-cold carrot curl into their mouth. Children also miss lots of essential nutrients such as potassium, vitamin A and C, fiber, and even water when they steadfastly avoid vegetables.
This “veggie strike” may come from a parent’s dislike of vegetables. Unfortunately, a lack of vegetables at the table puts many children at risk of eating too many calorie-dense, processed starches and proteins. So, how do we coax everyone back to the table with colorful, crunchy, vitamin-laden, low-calorie vegetables? One sure way is a colorful presentation — that is, make the vegetables so appealing that no one can resist trying a bite. What better time to serve eye-appealing veggies than the holidays?
It is a very busy time of the year, and you don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen that you simply don’t have. Here are a few ideas and recipes that will keep your preparation time short and that are easy enough to entice your child into the kitchen to help. One of the simplest ways to prepare raw vegetables is to cut them in new and interesting ways!
• To make the radish roses that I mentioned above, simply take a radish and cut the tip off. Make straight cuts down the sides but not all the way through. After, make concentric cuts so the radish has layers of “petals”.
• Cut a big carrot lengthwise. Then take a potato peeler and peel off wide strips from the flat sides. Curl these wide strips and fasten with a toothpick. Keep in ice water until serving. When you remove the toothpicks, the carrots will still be curls.
• Take celery and trim stalks on both ends so the pieces are uniform. Then cut vertical slices about 2 inches on each side, in the same direction as the grain. Place the sliced celery sticks into ice water and the ends will curl up a bit so that the stalks look like firecrackers. The smaller, milder celery stalks in the middle will have natural leafy tops — tempting for a grab and chomp veggie.
• Add some mushrooms with stems, broccoli trees, pitted olives, baby pickles, and bell pepper rings (they make lovely “bracelets” to go with your olive tipped fingers!) and you will have a very appealing and colorful veggie tray.
Also, would your kids like a flavorful dip to go with the veggies? First order of business might be to make an organic container for the dip.
• Take a bell pepper, slice off the top, remove the seeds, and you have an instant container for your veggie tray with a top to cover the dip.
• For larger crowds, take a red cabbage, slice off the top, and cut out a section in the center of the cabbage for the dip. If you turn down a few of the outermost leaves, you will have a pretty “flower” bowl to hold your dip.
• Any squash will also make a great bowl for dips. Slice the top off (and a bit of the bottom so the squash will not tip over) of an acorn squash or a small pie pumpkin to make an attractive bowl and lid. Scoop out most of the squash insides, roast them with olive oil, and use them in a soup or add to a roasted vegetable medley.
Of course, most children love Ranch-type dressings and this condiment is quite easy to make with children. Making the dip with your child is another way to get him or her interested in trying vegetables that are served with the dip. Recipes for Ranch dressing usually call for buttermilk, sour cream, and mayo to be blended with garlic, onion, parsley, dill, and salt and pepper. Here’s a lighter version I adapted from other standard Ranch dip recipes:
Light Ranch Dressing
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup light sour cream
1 cup low fat buttermilk
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, parmesan cheese, chives, parsley, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.
You can even create your own hummus with garbanzo beans, lemon, tahini or sesame seed oil, and a pinch of cumin. Below is a simple recipe using a blender or food processor. You can also mash the beans and mix the rest of the ingredients together by hand — it will just make a lumpier dip.
Hummus Among Us Dip
1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained but save the liquid
2 tablespoons of tahini (found in the Middle Eastern section of your grocery store) or sesame oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of crushed garlic (1 – 2 cloves)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Add a bit of the bean liquid if the mixture is too thick. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Now, what about a pumpkin hummus dip? Sounds good, right? Using the above recipe, take 1/2 of a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, add this to one can of garbanzo beans, double all of the spices, oil (or tahini), and the lemon juice. Puree or mash together.
There are even recipes for a beet hummus that adds roasted beets to the garbanzo beans. I like to call it the Royal Hummus Dip. To cook fresh beets, wash and cut off most of the stem/root and wrap in foil package. Put in a 400-degree oven for about an hour. Use the basic recipe above but replace the pumpkin puree with the chopped roasted beets. Now you have a delicious and very royal purple dip!
Avocados may be the vegetable best adapted to be a dip since they need no added fat to make them smooth and creamy. Slice the avocado in half and carefully remove the pit. Scoop out the insides, being careful to keep one avocado half intact so it can be the container for the dip. Mash the avocado insides with 2 tablespoons of lime juice, pinch of garlic, salt, some chopped cilantro, and a dash of hot sauce. Add finely chopped onions, a fresh chopped tomato and you have a healthy guacamole dip ready to be scooped back into the avocado “bowl”. This is very healthy dip ready in a few minutes and is perfect to accompany those crisp and colorful vegetables. Who needs chips and crackers?!
I hope these simple ideas entice you and your child into the kitchen tasting a variety of new vegetables. Perhaps some of your time spent making high-calorie holiday sweet treats will be diverted to making more interesting and much more nutritious vegetable presentations. Holiday nutrition — another good reason to celebrate the season with our children!