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Prairie Fare: Tempting Kids to Eat Veggies Takes Patience and Creativity

Brussels sprouts and its cousins are good for you.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Brussels sprouts are neat. They look like little brains,” my husband said to my son and daughter, who were about 9 and 6 at the time.

I think he was hoping to entice them. “Gross” food sometimes appeals to that age group.

“Eww!” they exclaimed in unison.

That vegetable enticement tactic certainly didn’t work, I thought to myself as I prepared to serve dinner, which included brussels sprouts.

“They look more like little cabbages to me. I think they’re kind of cute,” I said, raising my eyebrows at my husband.

He missed the hint.

“How many little brains would you like?” he asked them as they sat down.

After some bargaining, they agreed to one apiece. They each choked down one little sprout, which was better than expected. They drank a lot of milk in the process, so that was positive.

“I think you’ll be having seconds and thirds on brussels sprouts,” I said to my husband. He grinned.

He loves brussels sprouts, so I think this was all part of his master plan.

Like other vegetables, brussels sprouts are naturally low in calories and virtually fat-free. They are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables that includes broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

The cruciferous family is a good source of vitamin C and plant chemicals that have protective properties against diseases. For example, natural compounds called “indoles” and “isothiocyanates” are believed to help prevent damage to DNA, potentially lowering our risk for certain types of cancer.

Getting children to eat vegetables of all types sometimes can be a challenge. Exercise your patience because it can take many tries to get kids to accept unfamiliar vegetables and new menu items. Here are some tips to entice kids to eat more veggies. These tactics may work with adults, too.

  • Encourage kids to help choose vegetables at the grocery store and help prepare them at home. Kids who help are more likely to try the food.
  • Serve a tray of munchies, such as baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower florets, as an appetizer. Make it special. Use a colorful serving platter and serve some low-fat ranch dip on the side if that increases the appeal.
  • Don’t overcook vegetables. Olive-green, mushy broccoli won’t entice a child to try it. Tender-crisp, bright green broccoli is more appealing colorwise and texturewise. Try other methods, such as stir-frying or steaming. These methods maintain the color and texture of foods.
  • Have cut-up veggies in the refrigerator ready to grab as a quick snack.
  • Eat together as often as possible. Don’t forget to set a good example by eating all of your vegetables.
  • Don’t force children to eat foods they don’t like. We’re all entitled to some dislikes. Maybe brussels sprouts never will make the favorite foods list.

Explore the wide range of colorful produce. Try this recipe from the University of Connecticut Extension Service. You could nickname it “little brains with fungus sauce” if gross names appeal to your kids.

Brussels Sprouts with Mushroom Sauce

1 pound brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale or turnips

1 c. low-sodium chicken broth

2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. spicy brown mustard

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 c. sliced mushrooms

Wash and trim brussels sprouts and cut in half. Steam until tender (about six to 10 minutes) or microwave on high for three to four minutes. In a nonstick pot, bring the broth to a boil. Mix in the lemon juice, mustard and thyme. Add the mushrooms. Boil until the broth is reduced by half, about five to eight minutes. Add the brussels sprouts (or other cooked vegetable). Toss well to coat with the sauce.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 70 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 10 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and a full day’s supply of vitamin C.

(Julie Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist and associate professor with the NDSU Extension Service, Fargo.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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