Change It Up with Carrots
Carrots are one of the most commonly eaten vegetables, usually inexpensive, full of good nutrition and tend to be better accepted by kids than many other vegetables are. Maybe it’s because they have a hint of sweetness. That doesn’t make them fool-proof, of course, but their versatility make them a good way to introduce variety in appearance, taste, and texture. There are lessons to be learned from the various ways to prepare and serve carrots that can be transferred to many other vegetables.
Exposure, Exposure, Exposure!
One of the best ways to help your kids develop a love of vegetables is by serving them. A lot. Kids need to see a food at least 10 times in order to get used to it and maybe even like it. The key phrase is at least. Many parents stop offering certain foods long before that bare minimum of 10 times. But with a natural food* like carrots, I would say the math is more like this: Number of Times You Should Serve Carrots = 10 x The Number of Ways They Can Be Served. That’s because each different cooking and preparation method is like practically a new food to a child. If your child already thinks carrots are delicious, then he can learn to appreciate differences in foods every time you offer carrots in a new way. On the other hand, if your child has generally disliked carrots, then getting creative with the way you serve them could help them realize there is another side to this vegetable that actually tastes good. Let’s look at a few ways to prepare carrots both raw and cooked:
Raw carrots be served diced, sliced into coins or strips, grated, peeled into ribbons, crunched as baby carrots, or eaten in plain Bugs Bunny style. Of course with cookie cutters and fancy knife skills you can go even beyond that. To us adults the different ways to slice or cut carrots merely represent a change in appearance. But for kids, sometimes, a little change makes a huge difference because kids tend to be a little change-phobic. And worse, they are change-phobic while being hyperaware change spotters. That change can be a good thing, is something kids have to learn. Let’s teach it to them in baby steps, by using foods they already like and presenting them in new ways.
Big chunky carrot slices might seem intimidating. But a carrot coin is manageable, looks like a little wheel or whatever their imagination might decide, and is easier to bite into. And you can slice them thicker or thinner.
I grew up eating grated carrot salads and love them. One of my favorite such salads included grated apples, honey and lemon. My 4 year old picky one loves* this combo! And from such a sweet juicy carrot dish, it’s easier to transition to a more savory grated carrot salad like this one:
I found the above salad on Karen LeBillon’s website. She claims it is a favorite among French kids. I can’t find the original recipe but it contained a vinaigrette style dressing and finely chopped parsley. I served it to my then-3 year old one afternoon last summer after we’d had a long day at a water park. She was starving and I used it as an appetizer to buy time while I warmed up dinner. She gobbled it up and since then has really enjoyed grated carrot salads.
Last week I was inspired to try a new grated salad recipe Tribeca Nutrition posted. It had all the qualities I expected my kids to enjoy (i.e. sweetness and blueberries) plus something new: pumpkin seeds. I served it at snack time.
*I* loved it. It was absolutely delicious! How’d the kids do?
4 year old, who normally likes grated carrot salads, picked the blueberries out of her portion, requested more blueberries and then decided she was done when I told her she couldn’t have more of ‘just’ blueberries. 2 year old scooped a huge pile onto his plate. He also started by picking out the blueberries, but ended up eating about 2/3rds of what he served himself. So it was only a 50% hit, but because I loved it, I made extra and served it as a side dish with dinner that night. This time my 4 year old ate more than just blueberries. And I will make it again!
Grated carrots also work beautifully in a rainbow salad like you see below:
And so we come to carrot ribbons.
Aren’t they cool? My 4 year old loves these and eats them as finger foods. I discovered this brilliant idea thanks to a Super Healthy Kids post on “Rainbow Ribbons” (i.e. this idea can be used on many vegetables). Admittedly, the work is super tedious. The first time I tried it I had a 5 year old, 4 year old, and 2 year old helping (yes, I know not the quickest nor the most experienced with cooking tools) and it still took forever to get a reasonable quantity of ribbons. And I was constantly afraid I’d accidentally peel my thumb as the carrot got thinner and thinner. The solution? Stick a fork in one end of the carrot and hold it down on the cutting board while you peel away.
Hearts & Flowers: If you want to get fancier (I don’t), there are plenty of tutorials online to show you how to carve hearts and flowers from carrot slices and much more.
And just for fun…the one time I made food art, carrots became all sorts of things:
Blanch Carrots for Little Kids
Not long ago, I read that blanching raw carrots is a good idea for very young children (who have moved on to finger foods), but couldn’t recall why. So I asked Speech Therapist and Feeding Specialist, Melanie Potock. She advises parents to blanch raw carrots for toddlers because “when you blanch, the crunchy veggie absorbs more water, so it still has a crunch but the shards don’t feel as uncomfortable and the carrots are easier to swallow.” Blanching simply means placing peeled and chopped/sliced carrots into boiling water for 1-3 minutes and then removing them immediately to a bowl of ice water. Quick and easy!
A lot of the shapes we discussed for raw carrots can be used for cooked too. So I won’t rehash that list. You can steam, roast or stir-fry all manner of chopped up, sliced up or grated carrots. I have found that about 8-10 minutes is the perfect length of time to steam carrots. And I start my timer the moment I turn on the burner.
Up until this past year, I was stuck in the paradigm of cooked veggies = warm food and raw veggies = cold food. I didn’t consider there was a third option, until The French Foodie Baby blog gave me the idea of steaming veggies and then serving them cold with a vinaigrette. So I came up with the bowl of you see in this photo.
This was not a particularly popular dish, but not everything can be a winner. You know what cooked carrot dish was a winner? Maple Glazed Carrots! Butter and syrup always helps, doesn’t it 😉 I found I could actually cut the butter in half in the maple glazed carrots and still have a very rich tasting dish. It’s really okay to make vegetables taste good. Use seasonings to your advantage.
Roasted Carrots: Roasted carrots can be divine! Drizzle with olive oil and roast them alone or with other veggies. Roasting brings out their sweetness quite nicely. Here’s a simple roasted carrot recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s site. Roasting also gives you the option of making “Carrot French Fries” like these.
Switching between cooked and raw and the myriad of possible shapes allows for quite a bit of variety. This might keep you busy for a long time! Hopefully this look at carrots has given you some new ideas to try with your family. A lot of the preparation methods we’ve looked at can also work for other vegetables (hint, hint!). If you have a great carrot idea not mentioned here or know of an amazing recipe, please leave a comment, I’d love to add it to my list.
* Fruits and vegetables and other natural foods cooked/prepared from scratch are more likely to vary in flavor from dish to dish. Whereas a certain brand of chip or cookie or nugget always has a consistent flavor and texture (making them easy for kids to like), any given variety of apple might be mealier, sweeter, tarter, tastier or blander from apple to apple. This is not inherently bad, but kids who are more sensitive to flavors or textures might be put off of one food simply because of one ‘bad apple’ so to speak.
**As with all things kid and food related, your mileage may vary. So don’t be too disappointed and throw in the towel if your children don’t automatically love some new exciting recipe you serve. If you enjoy the new dish, wait a bit and serve it again. And again. And again x LOTS. There’s no other way to get them used to new foods but exposure. Just follow the Division of Responsibility and don’t pressure them to eat it.
Note: Although I have discussed many ideas and promote serving foods often to get your children accustomed to them, don’t take this as a suggestion to serve nothing but carrots for days on end. Overdoing carrots can give your child’s skin a bit of an orange tint…not kidding!