I read this article in the New York Times yesterday (Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries). Here’s a little quote to blow your mind:
For example, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable, Mr. Balzer said. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does.)
Truthfully, I am not surprised by this. With busy schedules, it does seem difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables. There are plenty of nights in my house when I ask my husband, “Do we really need a salad tonight?” I am often hoping for a response that goes something like this: “No.” It’s just that washing the lettuce and spinning it dry and making dressing and then washing the salad spinner and washing the salad bowl sometimes seems like an insurmountable task. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I am pretty sure ours isn’t the only household where this happens. (And yes, I know I should wash all of my salad greens the minute I bring them home and store them in a bag with a paper towel and then magically use as needed while wearing a Mary Poppins costume. But I don’t generally do that, OK?)
What did surprise me about this quote is how the study authors defined a “vegetable.” A single piece of lettuce on a hamburger apparently qualifies as eating a vegetable. One piece. A piece that is probably a wilted up scrap of iceberg with more water than nutrients. If only 23% of meals contain a vegetable serving with those pathetic standards, we are in trouble.
And I’m sorry, but I don’t think putting baby carrots in a vending machine with super cool graphics is the answer. First of all, the junk food they are competing against is so loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and chemical flavor enhancers that the carrots are just not going to win. They’re just not. Beyond, a super sweet vegetable like a carrot is not the flavor profile we need to develop in kids (and obviously adults too). We need to get children eating the non-sweet, non-starchy vegetables — things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and zucchini. When we start our babies out with sweet and starchy things like sweet potatoes and peas, do we really expect them to develop a taste for broccoli as two year olds?
In my entirely unscientific opinion, I think we need to begin training our children’s palates as soon as they begin solid food. That means pureeing some zucchini or broccoli and as the infants get older, maybe even adding in some spices or a bit of garlic. If we constantly train them to expect sweetness (in their vegetables, in their snacks, in their yogurt, etc.), I am just not sure how they will ever develop an appreciation for the other wonderful flavors that exist.
Beyond, here are a few ideas for the older ones … My kids have learned to love sauteed garlicky greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc.) and they especially enjoy the fact that they can eat a tablespoon or two and that equals about 2 cups of fresh greens. Another idea is roasting vegetables. This works well with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans. Simply roast at about 425 degrees Fahrenheit after tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper. The veggies get crispy on the edges and are delicious. A soup like this is also a wonderful way to integrate a lot of vegetables with different flavors or textures. You could puree it for the most finicky, but I do think that if we always hide vegetables or puree them away, it is harder for kids to learn to like anything in its normal form.
So, make some vegetable soup and be truly Un-American. You are not limited by the vegetables that I have used here. This is what I needed to use up and you can certainly add or substitute based on what is languishing in the back of your crisper. And by the standard of one-piece-of-lettuce-equals-a-serving, you should be good on nutrients for about a month and a half.
Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou
Serves 6-8 with leftovers
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, chopped
8 cups of broth (I used homemade beef broth)*
24 oz. pureed tomatoes (I used the Bionature Brand in glass)**
1/2 cup of red wine
2 cups of green or yellow beans, stemmed and in bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups of edamame (cooked and shelled soybeans) or peas, limas, etc.
1 cup of pasta or rice (your choice, I used penne)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 t salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
1. In a large stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil. Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until just softened. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine and cook until reduced slightly.
2. Add broth and pureed tomatoes. Season with 2 t. of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes (more or less depending on spice preferences). Simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered on medium heat.
3. Meanwhile, make the pistou. You can chop it finely, use a food processor/chopper, or a mortar and pestle. Simply chop up the basil and garlic, add the olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Set aside.
3. Add green/yellow beans and pasta to soup. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes until pasta and beans are done. Add edamame, chopped rosemary, and cream. Cook for about 5 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (You can certainly let this simmer and reduce longer if you like, but we like ours with vegetables that aren’t cooked to death.)
4. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a spoonful of the Basil Pistou on top.
*Use a simple homemade broth rather than buying it. It’s much better for you and much cheaper. Just cover some chopped onion, garlic, a few herbs, celery if you have it, salt and pepper, etc. with water and simmer for as long as you have. Strain out the solids and use the broth in just about anything.
**Research is showing that BPA is easily transferred to anything acidic in a can. If you don’t have your own tomatoes to use, buy tomatoes only in glass containers if possible.