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, beetroot.
Beetroot is having its Kale Moment. Once a rather frumpy vegetable, long associated with nasty over-pickled slices, we are finally following in the footsteps of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe and embracing the beet. UK sales have increased by 20 per cent in the last four years, presumably owing to its having been granted superfood status by the Daily Mail and whoever else it is that decides these things for us.
I was a late convert to beetroot myself, which probably explains why it wasn’t something that played a big role in my son’s diet. Beetroot puree certainly did not make it into the weaning rotation. This owed entirely to ignorance on my part – I always assumed that the raw specimens would be difficult to prepare and cook. Guess what? Provided you arm yourself with some of those disposable CSI kitchen gloves, they are really no trouble at all. And once you get past pickling, beetroots are actually incredibly child-friendly and a great way to increase the variety of colours they are eating: they are purple, ridiculously sweet (hence most grown-up preparations pair them with something sour or salty) and taste a little bit like mud. And mud seems to be something that my son, at least, has always been happy to ingest.Buying: The standard red/purple varieties are the most common. Many hybrid varieties are increasingly available though, which are less pigmented than the traditional purple and don’t bleed all over your hands and kitchen. Hybrid varieties tend to be picked when they are smaller and come in golden, pink, white and the really beautiful pink and white two tone Italian heritage variety Chioggia, sometimes called Candy Stripe, which seem to appeal a lot to children. Rather disappointingly, the Chiogga turns pink when cooked so these are best to use for raw dishes if you want to preserve the beautiful two tone concentric circle, which you obviously do.
Beetroot should be firm with a smooth, undamaged surface and deeply coloured. If you are buying them on a market, you may get them with leaves intact. These are edible – they’re very similar to chard and spinach – but if you want to use the leaves they should be brilliant green and look very sprightly. As soon as they start to yellow or wilt they must be introduced to the bin. Don’t worry though if the leaves aren’t good enough to eat, this doesn’t mean that the root bulb isn’t still OK, the leaves just deteriorate much more quickly than the root once picked. The bulbs will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Season: The UK beetroot season runs from early summer through to February/March but as the mature ones store well they are available into the spring after the crop has started to bolt. Points: 15. Proper ‘superfood’ these. Beetroot has been used medicinally since Roman times and they contain a unique group of antioxidants called betacyanins. These are believed to support the liver, improve circulation, lower blood pressure and strengthen the heart. And apparently they are anti-inflammatory and aid digestion too. How: Beetroot is great raw or cooked but if it’s new to your child I would recommend cooking it as this really enhances the natural sweetness.
To cook beetroot you can steam, boil or roast it – in each case always leave the skin on and 2-3 cm of the stem/leaves and the root tail intact otherwise their purple colour (and all their nutrients) leach out during cooking. Steaming and boiling is quickest but I always roast mine as it is very low maintenance and I think they taste better as they have the opportunity to take on the flavours of the garlic and herbs.
Toss them in olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper (a big glug of balsamic vinegar is a great addition), pop into a small roasting dish, cover with foil and roast at 180°C for 20-60 mins depending on size.
Once cooked, the skins can be rubbed off easily – best done with a teaspoon or with gloves on if you are doing battle with the purple variety. If your kids are quite adventurous you can season the warm beets with something vinegary. I like sherry vinegar but raspberry – or other fruit – vinegar is excellent too; and some oil, walnut is brilliant. If you think the tartness of vinegar will be a deal breaker, simply serve them up as they are.
If you are going to the trouble of cooking something for an hour it is worth doing a batch and then sticking leftovers in the fridge. It can then be eaten cold during the week in various salad concoctions or as a (cold) side.The Verdict: Beetroot has been one of the biggest success stories in our household quest for vegetable friendship. My son loves the stuff now and it makes a regular appearance as part of the ‘bits and pieces’ lunches that I make him survive on most of the time i.e. ham, breadsticks and chopped vegetable things. He’ll eat it raw (provided it is sliced finely enough and preferably if we can source the pink striped variety) and has recently developed an obsession with beetroot juice. It has brought about an uptick in our laundry quota but it certainly feels worth it. More Ideas: Starting with some shameless self-promotion, I would definitely recommend these beetroot, courgette and carrot fritters from my blog. I have found a fritter often to be the way to a vegetable dodger’s heart and I am told that these have been popular with many friends’ children and can be endlessly adapted depending on what vegetables you have around.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s beetroot and avocado salad is fantastic and can easily be adapted for kids by scaling back the mustard in the dressing. It is also very good with some roasted carrots thrown in and the colours together look lovely.
There is a delicious potato and beetroot gratin in one of Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking (which recently featured in our Best Family Cookbooks), but this one from Red magazine is pretty much identical if you don’t have the book.
Beetroot crisps are tastier than kale crisps and are a doddle to make. A definite child-pleaser. Get yourself a mandolin and go wild.
Finally, this beetroot and walnut hummus from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a great ‘entry-level’ introduction to beetroot for kids and is great for spreading on bread or poking with carrot sticks. It’s easy to whizz up in a food processor and keeps really well in the fridge.
Read all about the 52 New Foods Challenge here.
For more ideas and inspiration for family-friendly vegetables, check out our 52 New Foods Winter 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. Her New Year’s resolution is to start writing her food blog again.