Wondering how 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, kale.
I vowed I wouldn’t write about kale as part of this series. You’re all totally over it aren’t you? Utterly sick to death of hearing about how it is going to change your life and heal the world. Absent a parental 1980s allotment hobby, kale was a vegetable that most of us were blissfully unaware of until 2013, when suddenly it trampled all over quinoa to become the Kim Kardashian of plant matter.
Kale ice-pops were all the rage at London Fashion Week, Gwyneth gave it the nod and, by 2014, kale had truly reached it’s apotheosis. Buzzfeed published data declaring 6 Jan 2014 to be the day of peak kale consumption, Beyonce sported a fetching kale sweater and knickers combo for her 7/11 video and, almost to confirm its fashionable status, the healthy-eating crowd started leaving it behind to find the Next Big Thing for 2015 (it’s seaweed, kelp specifically, in case you wondered).
But here I am anyway, against my better judgement, telling you about ways to feed kale to your kids. It’s partly because kale has been one of the biggest surprises for me so far on our 52 New Foods journey and confirmed what I had long suspected – that children can really surprise you if you put aside your own expectations as to what they will and won’t eat. But it’s mainly because I stumbled across a kale recipe so good that I have yet to hear of a child (or adult) who refuses to eat it. That sort of information requires sharing.
And, no, it isn’t kale chips.Buying: Once the preserve of farmer’s markets, kale is easy to get hold of in most supermarkets. The ready sliced stuff is all well good but the nutrients do start to deteriorate once it’s cut so go for the whole leaves and enlist your children’s help in stripping out the stem and tearing the leaves for cooking. Stems can be juiced, if you’re into that sort of thing. Look for bright leaves, no wilting or yellow patches and eat as soon as you can after buying. US recipes often call for dinosaur (or lacinato) kale. It’s what we, rather boringly, call Cavolo Nero. Season: Kale is in season in the UK from September to April, but like other brassicas, is markedly tastier after a frost or two so the bleak mid winter is perfect kale time. If you have a regular vegetable box delivery you will probably be overrun with the stuff at the moment. Points: 15. Believe the hype. Garnering a maximum 1000 points on Eat Right’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), there are few vegetables that can compete, nutrient wise, with kale. It is rich in beta-carotene, vitamins C and K, folate, magnesium, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and just about everything else that is supposed to be good for you.
SEE ALSO: 5 a Day: Avocado Recipes for Kids
How: If ever there were an example of a great ‘gateway’ recipe for getting greens into children it has to be these twice baked potatoes from the great Smitten Kitchen. Take kale and leeks (more greens!), add dairy product and old-fashioned child approved potato and you have a brilliant chlorophyll delivery vehicle. OK, it isn’t as healthy as a raw kale salad, but it helps broker the child-kale relationship in a sensible way: next time you roll out the kale it’s remembered as the green thing from the delicious jacket potato, not the green thing from the fridge to be treated with suspicion. These potatoes have taken us from zero child kale intake to kale now being asked for (and eaten) in all of its guises – from raw to sautéed to blended. Surprising? Yes. Pleasing in that smug middle-class vegetable oneupmanship way? Very.
What’s more, these seem to appeal to adults and children alike and can easily be staggered to cover two alternative evening dining slots as once the filling is prepared the potatoes will wait happily to be reheated later on.
For the more ambitious, this sautéed kale with cranberries from the 52 New Foods book makes a good introduction for children who are already willing to tackle greens in their more pared back form and, of course, if you haven’t already been told that kale chips are the answer to your children’s snacking needs, you’ve probably spent the last two years living on the island from Lost.
Raw kale is ludicrously trendy, nutrient dense and unquestionably an acquired taste. The trick, apparently, is to massage the leaves for at least five minutes before serving, which helps to break down the cellulose, reducing bitterness and making it more readily digestible. You may say life is too short (and I may well agree with you) but if you’re up for some kitchen kale manipulation I am told that, of all the varieties, Cavolo Nero makes for a superior salad.
Kale pesto is another ideal ‘gateway’ recipe for children. This recipe from Diana Henry is fantastic and can be ramped up with some blitzed broccoli too for extra goodness.
At the Daylesford farmshop cafes, they currently have a raw kale, apple and candied bacon salad on their menu, which is a favourite with my three year old, albeit he removes all of the bacon (I have raised a monster). Sadly, the recipe doesn’t feature in their book but the combination of apple and raw kale is a tried and tested one and seems to score points with small people. Candied bacon is optional, but the addition of some dried fruit, nuts and salty cheese like feta to raw kale salads does help balance out the mineral earthiness of the greens (and, frankly, makes them more interesting to eat).
Green smoothie recipes for kids abound on the internet but raw blended kale, like broccoli, is not for the faint-hearted and most of the recipes I have found end up ‘compensating’ with plenty of sugar via copious quantities of dates or apple juice, which sort of defeats the point. Introducing milder greens, like spinach and pak choi, to smoothies (with some berries and little banana to balance) is a better way in my experience to start kids down the green drink path without putting them off for life.
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.