Okay, I’ll be the first to admit from the get-go that this idea is laborious and geared toward home cooks. But I seriously think I came up with a great idea while driving home and salivating over the August issue of Bon Appetit. (And even those who “can’t cook” can steam, roast in an oven, and defrost a bag of frozen veggies).
For 20 weeks from spring to fall (May to October), do a Family Veggie Challenge. The idea is to come up with rankings for 20 different vegetables as a family to see which vegetable wins out as your family’s favorite. I think I will wait to try this next year when Zach and Eliza are both a little older. (So if you try this, please send me your feedback!) Here’s the gist:
1. Each week, pick a vegetable to show-case, based on what you can get freshest in the grocery store or farmer’s market.
2. For that week, include one vegetable prepared 3-4 different ways (for consumption at 3-4 of your dinners). Obviously, this won’t be the only vegetable you eat all week, but it needs to be showcased enough for you to try it several ways without making everyone sick of it (so perhaps every other meal). You can even eat the vegetable out at a restaurant for one of the nights. You can try including them in your dinner menu raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed, batter-fried, or steamed. Of course, you can be creative and search for top-ranked recipes online. The idea is to make them taste GOOD and not to over-do it by combining the vegetable of the week with too many other ingredients (so your kids really understand the flavor of each veggie).
3. Print up rating cards for each family member for the week and create a rating system (such as “Ew, gross”, “I can swallow this without gagging”, “These actually taste good”, and “Personal favorite”). At each meal, write down each preparation in a left-column (such as “steamed broccoli with cheese sauce,” “roasted broccoli,” “raw broccoli,” and “tempura broccoli”) and create a chart for people to mark which ratings they choose. Discuss how everyone has rated the vegetable each night.
4. Each week, declare a winning recipe for each vegetable based on which preparation had the best ratings overall, and collect the rating cards.
5. At the end of the 20 weeks, have your kids declare a winner – the best vegetable. And you will not only have tried 20 different vegetables, but also 60-80 different recipes for making them. My guess is that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy tasting for the sake of being able to rate them (even if just about every rating is “Ew, gross!”). And in the end, you will have a documented reference bible for what vegetables your kids like the most and how they like them best prepared. You can also give your kids free passes from 3 vegetables at the end of the challenge, so they can choose to not to eat those when you serve them. (It really is hard to force your child to eat something and watch it come back up through the gag-and-vomit process. They’re just not going to like every vegetable.) This would make them have to choose their very least favorites, and would probably help get them to eat the other vegetables that they can get down without gagging.
I’m so excited about trying this out! Maybe I’ll do a five-week trial this fall. I think we need to get Zach a little better at consuming food at dinner-time before starting. Let me know what you think about it!