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 seasonal ideas, tips and recipes to help you move beyond carrots and peas. This month: courgettes.
As far as vegetables go, courgettes (zucchini) should be fairly innocuous as far as children are concerned. Mild and almost creamy in flavour with a high water content, the most common criticism of them from adults is that they are just a bit, well, nothing. And foods that taste of nothing are usually not the battle when it comes to younger kids. But then logic has no place when negotiating vegetables and children, and getting them to embrace courgettes can be a challenge.
Texture is definitely one of the sticking points for small kids along with the fact that they are a) green and b) a vegetable. Unfortunately, many of the courgettes we buy in shops are older, larger specimens that are watery, seedy and, for want of a better word, flabby to eat, particularly if they are introduced to boiling water or steam. If you were ever subjected to eating the enormous prize-winning marrow your neighbours grew for the garden fête in 1979, you will understand how unappealing a bland, woolly summer squash truly is.
With some careful purchasing and a bit of creativity though, courgettes (and the other summer squash like crooknecks and patty pan) are surprisingly easy to wrangle past your kids and onto their like list. Just don’t try and pass them off as cucumber. Any wily 4 year old will see through that ruse in seconds.
Jump straight to recipe ideas or read on for our tips on buying and storing courgettes, and why they’re a great thing to be on your family’s plate.
Buying: Size matters. Look for small courgettes that are heavy for their size, with glossy skins. As a soft-skinned vegetable a few dents and scratches are fairly inevitable but avoid any that are bruised or wrinkled. Keep an eye out too for alternatives to the ubiquitous dark green varieties in the supermarkets – pale green and yellow courgettes are easy to pick up at farmer’s markets and can be more appealing to kids. And all of the recipes and ideas below can be made using the other summer squashes too – just look for smaller ones (up to about 5cm diameter) when buying the round/squat varieties.
Season: UK grown courgettes are readily available from June to early October. If you are green fingered they grow like triffids in a vegetable patch or allotment too, hence the apparently inseparability of the words ‘courgettes’ and ‘glut’ in late summer.
Why: Despite the high water content and relatively mild flavour, courgettes contain a wide range of nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, folate and beta-carotene. These are, however, largely concentrated in the skin so step away from the peeler.
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Courgette for Kids – Recipe Ideas:
BASICS: Grilling, baking and frying are the best ways to go with courgettes. Their water content is too high for boiling or steaming ever to end well.
FRITTERS: The fritter has long been a tried and tested way to get kids into vegetables and courgettes come into their own here. In our house, a variation of these beetroot, feta and courgette fritters get regular outings in the summer, not least because you can throw all manner of vegetables that are decaying in the fridge into the mix. The trick, though, is to go light on the batter and make sure the grated vegetables are really well dried first.
POLPETTE: Following the fritter line but a baked option for those who would rather avoid shallow frying on a summer’s day, these courgette polpette from The River Cottage are almost legendary on Mumsnet and beyond. And rightly so.
FRIES: Cheese and courgettes are firm friends. Cheesy courgette and tomato gratins look lovely on food blogs, but it is difficult in reality to pull one off that manages to deal with the combined natural water quotient and isn’t a slightly soggy mess. Grating parmesan onto freshly sautéed courgette slices or making these simple and utterly addictive baked parmesan courgette fries is a safer – and much more low-maintenance – bet.
COURGETTI: It is impossible to talk about courgettes in 2015 and not mention courgetti, the darling of the paleo movement and ‘clean eating’ crusaders. Whether carb replacement is your thing or not, there is no way around it: as far as kids are concerned the long strands of courgette that materialise from a spiraliser are pretty awesome and make a fun introduction to raw courgette. Try mixing with carrots and beetroot ribbons to make a colourful raw slaw salad or toss raw courgetti with a pesto and a little oil to make a summery pasta equivalent.
If raw is a step too far, you can use also courgetti to replace spaghetti in warm dishes, like this popular courgetti and red pesto recipe from Hemsley + Hemsley. Just make sure you warm it through to soften slightly with plenty of butter and seasoning before adding your bolognese or other topping. A clever way to break up the endless wheat cycle that most kids are stuck in.
PASTA: If good old-fashioned pasta is more your family’s thing, grated courgettes (as in this courgette and lemon linguine) make a subtle vegetable addition to simple pasta sauces and you can never go wrong with Jamie Oliver’s courgette carbonara.
BARBECUE: Chargrilling really suits courgettes – just slice lengthways, brush with oil and season well (with a little chilli for adults and older kids). Like aubergines they take on a smoky, nutty flavour and are great served simply as a side, as a pizza topping or piled onto toasted sourdough with some ricotta or small cubes of mozzarella. A very hot griddle pan does a pretty convincing job too if you don’t have the barbecue on.
JUICE: If you have a juicer at home try experimenting with courgette in blends that use cucumber. It has a similarly high water content and is very refreshing. Carrot makes a good pairing.
THE SWEETER STUFF: Often overlooked for baking, courgettes can be used in quick breads in the same way as carrots and bananas. Our go-to recipe is Smitten Kitchen’s Zucchini Bread (and on a similar theme, her zucchini bread pancakes). But if recipes with cup measurements drive you demented, try this Courgette Cake from Mr Fox favourite, Claire Thomson of The 5 O’Clock Apron.Read all about the 52 New Foods Challenge here or read more in our 5 A Day series: Avocado, Kale, Beetroot, Brussels Sprouts, Pak Choi or Blueberries.
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.