Monday, July 6, 2009

Green Giants!

Rain! We have had more than our share this spring and summer, and it has brought an abundance of leafy greens to Colorado stores and farmers markets. Lettuces, kale, beet greens, spinach, and other greens are plentiful and inexpensive right now.

Greens are worth seeking out because they are a nutrition "bargain"! By "bargain" I mean that they are packed with nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals but have very few calories. Hidden in their beautiful green leaves are vitamins A,C, and K; potassium; folic acid; iron; calcium and magnesium. Their vibrant green color also alerts us to the fact that they are full of antioxidants with cancer-fighting abilities. Two of these antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthine, are thought to help protect our eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness in older adults).

Most children do not get enough vegetables in their diets, and they are woefully lacking in the leafy green variety. We know that the most commonly eaten vegetable in the U.S. is the potato, not spinach. I read an article in the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter a few years ago stating that the reason most Americans don't eat very many greens is that they don't know how to cook and serve them, often steaming them up and then adding a pat of butter as an afterthought. They had a quote from a researcher at Greece's Medical School in Athens saying that the reason Greeks and other peoples of the Mediterranean eat more leafy greens, is that they make them taste good by sauteing them in olive oil or stir-frying them. Their point was, spend a few extra calories to make vegetables taste good so that you will actually eat them and get all the benefits of their nutrients. I think this is especially important when preparing vegetables for young children. There is really no point in making them if the children won't eat them.

Steaming greens and then adding some olive oil and a squeeze of lemon is often all you need to make them taste better. You can also use red and green leaf lettuce or romaine in your tossed salads if your children like those. Spinach is very mild and children will often accept chopped spinach if it is added to dishes such as omelets or casseroles.

Here are a few of the recipes included in that Tufts newsletter that I have served successfully to my own children:

Toasted Walnut Topping
Toast 3 Tablespoons of chopped walnuts* and 1 Tablespoon of minced onion in 1 teaspoon of butter in a small skillet, stirring over medium heat until fragrant and light golden, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Toss with 2 cups cooked green beans, broccoli, spinach or Swiss chard.
*Note: nuts can be a choking hazard for children under 4.

Spicy Peanut Sauce
Combine 1/4 cup natural peanut butter and 2 Tablespoons boiling water and stir until smooth. Stir in 1 Tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1 clove minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional). Spoon over 2 cups cooked green beans, broccoli, bok choy, or cabbage.

What are your favorite ways to serve leafy greens to your children? If you have a recipe tip please feel free to share in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

photo by tiffanywashko

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