It seems like Americans Moms are obsessed with getting their kids to eat vegetables. They go through great lengths to do so, and even go as far as cooking, puréeing and sneaking butternut squash into brownies to make sure they get their daily dose of vegetables. If they only knew how many Israeli kids gobble up simple chopped salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they would know that Israel is on to something.
It seems to me that the best way to teach kids to eat veggies is to (1) show them how much their parents enjoy eating them (2) prepare them in a variety of ways (3) make it fun.
One of my favorite ways of doing so is what we call “secret ingredient soup”, a name taken from Kung Fu Panda. In case you haven’t seen the movie I won’t give away the whole story line, and I won’t tell you what the secret ingredient is, but since my kids saw (and loved) the movie, they think its hilarious that we have the food from the movie. My secret weapon here is fresh Chinese noodles- and it seems that if you add noodles into the soup, you can basically put anything else in, and the kids will eat it all. Even if they pick out 1 or two vegetables, if there are still 8 other ones they are eating, I think that’s not bad at all.
No two soups are identical, and the veggies change depending on the week and season, but the basic technique is the same, and some of our favorite veggies appear week after week. Here is what we had this week:
Secret Ingredient Soup
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 T green curry paste
1 sweet potato
1 red pepper
10 cremini mushrooms
10 shitake mushrooms
A handful of snap peas
1 crown broccoli
1 block extra-firm tofu
8 oz. fresh Chinese noodles (I like Melissa’s)
The hardest part about this soup is the amount of chopping. So I delegate, and the older kids do most of the chopping. They get to chose which vegetables they like to chop, and they munch on the veggies as they go. All veggies should be chopped into bite size pieces- small, but not too small.
Then I heat a pot, add a little olive oil, and add the onions. Stir them around and let them sweat a little. Add garlic and curry paste, and mix, until the whole kitchen smells like curry paste. That means the spices have “woken up” and we are ready to go.
All the sturdy vegetables (in this case- everything but the snap peas and broccoli) go into the pot, and I cover them with water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer about 10-15 minutes, until the hardest vegetable (sweet potato here) is cooked.
[If I’m making this soup in advance, I turn off the heat here, and let the soup wait until right before we are ready to eat. When we are ready, I turn the heat back on, bring the soup to a boil, and continue as follows:]
I cube the tofu and add it into the pot, add the noodles into the pot and give them a gentle stir, and let them cook for the designated time according to the packages instruction. Fresh noodles cook in about 2-3 minutes, spaghetti in about 7-8 minutes. I then add soy sauce- to taste- turn off the heat, remove the pot from the stovetop and add the gentle green vegetables (snap peas and broccoli in this recipe), which will cook from the steam.
Several variations on this soup are possible:
Vegetables- We have tried lots of veggies, such as butternut squash, rutabaga, potatoes, bok choy, cabbage, kale, cauliflower. I let the kids guess what’s in the soup, and see how many there are, and what is each person’s favorite.
Oodles of noodles- we have tried this with regular spaghetti, whole wheat spaghetti and (my favorite) soba noodles too- all delicious, just adjust the cooking time to allow the noodles to cook sufficiently.
Eggs- to boost protein and just add another dimention to the soup, scramble a few eggs in a bowl, and after the soup is cooked through, while it is gently simmering, pour the eggs in while stirring the soup with your other hand.
Bete’avon! (Bon Apetite in Hebrew)