Looking for ways to get your kids to eat more vegetables? We took up the 52 New Foods Challenge to introduce one new fruit or vegetable a week to vary our children’s diet. Each month we share some ideas, tips and recipes to help you move beyond carrots and peas. This month, blueberries.
OK, bear with me. I’m not suggesting blueberries are some strange and exotic commodity that your child refuses to touch. More likely, if you have a child under 5, blueberries are one of the select non-beige foodstuffs they are willingly prepared to eat. Some small children I know are capable of consuming them in such enormous quantities that it’s a wonder they don’t resemble Smurfs.
Not that we should complain: blueberries were the original ‘superfood’. The Christy Turlingtons of plant produce that paved the way for our now resident obsession with the micronutrients that dwell in our food. “You want some blueberries, darling? Of course! Eat the whole punnet!” So what if your kids won’t eat greens? These blueberries may require you to remortgage but at least they’ll stave off scurvy and rickets and more besides.
And that is really why they are featuring here. Blueberries are a great example of the 52 New Foods ‘gateway food’ concept. Take a reliable, child-approved fruit or vegetable and use it as a building block towards more adventurous dishes. Adding new foods to whatever your own child’s ‘gateway foods’ are (or serving gateway foods in new ways) makes it easier for kids to venture beyond their narrow stable of ‘safe’ foods and out of the all too common rut of eating peas, carrots and baby corn on rotation.
Or at least that’s the theory. As any parent knows, such a strategy is not without risk. Children are extraordinarily adept at identifying, isolating and removing unknown plant matter from their plates, no matter how well incorporated. If your gateway experiment fails, it can go one of two ways: your child will have succeeded in eating just fruit for dinner or, worse, the whole meal will be rendered irretrievably contaminated by the foreign object and the whole game is off. But hey, what fun is parenting without running the gauntlet (and making a second tea) occasionally?Buying: Heavy demand (and the corresponding increase in both imports and UK growers) has meant that blueberries no longer cost more than platinum but they are still not a budget option. To add insult to injury, studies indicate that blueberries are exposed to high levels of pesticides when grown commercially and so are an example of when paying for organic actually pays off. Frozen berries are a boon though – available for as little as a quarter of the cost of fresh, they are perfect for smoothies and baking. Season: The UK blueberry season is fairly short with the harvest falling in July/August. However, blueberries are imported into the UK all round year to meet the enormous demand. European grown varieties will be coming into shops soon, if you are concerned about food air miles. Blueberry bushes are, apparently, very easy to grow in the UK too so plant your own if you are relatively green-fingered. Cold climate blueberries are, we are told, the best in the world for flavour.
Points: 5. A low scorer in the 52 New Foods Challenge but that is a reflection of how little incentive kids need to eat them rather than their nutritional value. A brilliant low-sugar snack, they are packed with anthocynins (that gives them their colour), which are believed to have antioxidant properties in far greater concentrations than vitamin C. They are also a good source of vitamins C and K, fibre and manganese.
How: Blueberries are most useful as a gateway food in salads and salsas. After all, it’s not like many children need an incentive to eat pancakes and muffins. Starting with a base of blueberries, mango and a squeeze of lime juice you can build up chopped salads and salsas that are healthy, colourful and not (too) terrifying looking for kids.
What you add is up to you but finely chopped red onion, chilli (for older kids), apples, cherry tomatoes, avocado and radishes all work well. Adding some finely chopped coriander is really good too and makes this a great topping for tacos or tortillas, for kids and parents alike.
Getting kids to make their own combination, in a salad bar type way, helps encourage them to try what they have put together, albeit the fickleness of children knows no bounds so I offer you no guarantees.
These DIY salads make brilliant accompaniments to grilled chicken, fish or halloumi cheese, which means the whole meal won’t necessarily be a write-off if the salsa is rejected. That’s unless, of course, the salad touched the chicken. No self-respecting 4 year old would permit that.More Ideas: Blueberries make great smoothies for quick healthy breakfasts and after school snacks. Frozen berries are perfect here: whizz up a big handful with some yoghurt, a banana and a squeeze of orange juice or try this dairy free alternative. Adding peanut butter makes a more substantial protein rich option that is great for breakfast. Smoothies are also a great vehicle for little nutritious extras like flaxseeds, wheat germ or chia.
Keep your eyes peeled for packs of frozen or freeze dried açai berries, which are increasingly available in the UK. This Amazonian cousin of the blueberry is loaded with anthocyanins and flavonoids and has a delicious chocolate aftertaste making it a great choice for smoothies and breakfast bowls.
Fresh blueberries make great toppings to cereals and porridge. This breakfast ‘grain salad’ from The Kitchn is a perfect make-ahead summer breakfast solution.
The blueberry ‘salad’ idea above can be made more substantial with the addition of some cooked and cooled wholegrains: try this mango blueberry quinoa salad or switch out the quinoa for pearl barley, wheatberries or wholewheat orzo if you kids are pasta fans (and who’s aren’t?)
Cooked gently with a little maple syrup and other fruits, blueberries make an easy low-sugar ‘jam’ or compote for porridge, yoghurt or toast too.
For more ideas and inspiration for family-friendly vegetables, check out our 52 New Foods board on Pinterest.Kate Douglas-Hamilton is Mr Fox co-founder. A recovering lawyer, she now spends most of her time staring at a screen and occasionally writing about learning to love eating plants on her blog The Buckwheat Adventure. She has one son, aged 3. Find her on Instagram @thebuckwheatadventure and on Twitter @katedh.