Looking for ways to get your kids to eat more vegetables? We took up the 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, an common childhood nemesis – the Brussels sprout.
Is there a more widely maligned vegetable than the poor old Brussels sprout? Holder of the dubious accolade of America’s Most Hated Vegetable, the sprout routinely finds itself up there with anchovies, black pudding and cockles as one of the top foods that we in Britain also love to hate.
It’s not difficult to see why so many of us have taken against the sprout. Eaten too early in the season or overcooked, the sprout offers a truly unique combination: a soggy texture, a dull greying appearance and a sulphurous bitter taste. Delicious!
Children often reserve a special level of contempt for the sprout. Unsurprising, though, when you consider that they are pre-programmed, from an evolutionary perspective, to be wary of bitter and sour flavours and seek out sweet ones. Let’s be honest, few children would truly enjoy Campari. As we get older, we are better equipped to warm to these flavours (they are called acquired tastes for a reason), as our taste buds diminish in number and sensitivity we begin to understand that sprouts are not actually toxic.
And so, with the weight of evolution and science stacked firmly against me, I decided to make sprouts the opening gambit in my 52 New Foods Challenge.Buying: Look out for small specimens with no yellow leaves – the bigger the sprout, the more bitter the taste. Sprouts are most commonly green but keep your eyes peeled for the purple ones too.
I can’t stress enough how much buying sprouts on the stalk helped get my son on board with eating them. In the words of the American chef and writer Deborah Madison there is something so ‘silly and Dr Seuss-like’ about a sprout stalk that kids seem to be drawn to them. Once the preserve of the farmers markets, whole stalks are increasingly available in the supermarkets. Getting children to pick the sprouts from the stem all helps in fostering the child-sprout relationship.Season: Winter. A confession here: sprouts appear in the Autumn section of the book (and, strictly speaking, the UK season runs from October to March) but I firmly consider the sprout a winter vegetable, which should only be eaten after the first frost. It is believed that the colder the weather, the sweeter the sprout so your children at least will thank me for bending the rules here. Points: 15. Big hitters in the 52 New Foods league. Sprouts are little nutritional bullets loaded with vitamins A and C, folates and are higher in glucosilonates (believed to have anti-cancer properties) than the rest of the cabbage family. How: The book offers up three suggestions for family friendly Brussels – roasted with bacon, sautéed (with lemon and walnuts) and brussels sprout chips, a twist on the now ubiquitous kale chip.
The latter was immediately discounted on the basis that it required peeling each sprout into individual leaves; a task that would definitely exceed my, admittedly low, patience threshold. (Yes, I know Heston Blumenthal says peeling and shredding is simply The Only Way to do one’s sprouts at Christmas but I suspect Heston’s and my kitchen practices diverge in more areas than just this.)
I decided to hedge my bets and, over the course of the week, pitted our standard family preparation (blanched for 3 minutes then sautéed in butter with some bacon until just tender) against the suggested roasted option. The unifying theme here, you will note, being bacon. There is no member of the cabbage family (or, really, any family) that isn’t exponentially improved by the addition of bacon and I was happy to take any help I could get.
The roasting process is simple:
- halve the sprouts (or quarter larger ones)
- place on a baking tray with some chopped bacon or pancetta (roughly 4-5 slices for every 500g of sprouts)
- drizzle with a little olive oil, season well
- roast for 20-25 minutes at 200ºC, until the edges are crispy, turning from time to time.
The blanched and sautéed sprouts, on the other hand, were devoured to the exclusion of nearly all else on his plate and, in a further experiment later in the week, were welcomed with almost the same amount of gusto with just butter and no bacon. In both cases, I ensured that the smallest sprouts were sent in his direction but I was surprised at his overall enthusiasm for them. He has even requested them since.
He couldn’t care less about the points system so I will gladly high-five myself and take the points instead.More Ideas: If bacon isn’t your thing, and it isn’t for many people for many reasons, the old child favourites of cream and cheese may well assist you instead in your sprout mission – this sprout gratin from Food Network is simple, foolproof and delicious in this cold weather.
A tablespoon of maple syrup in with the oil when roasting would probably have assisted in counteracting the bitter tones if you do favour the roasting route. If going the sautéed way, toasted walnuts, pecans or chestnuts make great child-friendly additions. If you are more patient than me (and most people are) finely shredded sprouts sautéed with a little red onion, garlic and lemon juice make a brilliant vegetarian topping for pasta – a good way to utilise an existing favourite as a vehicle for the unknown. Or you could try this real rib-sticking, double carb baked wholewheat pasta dish from Nigella Lawson.
Raw sprouts, shredded into salads or slaws, are also very fashionable at the moment. But I think I’ll leave it to you to try out those on your kids first…
Read all about the 52 New Foods Challenge here.
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. Her perfect winter Sunday involves phoning for take-away and talking over Homeland to the irritation of her husband.