The magic green soup, and how to get your children to eat vegetables
Forgive me if at any stage in this post I sound preachy - I really don’t mean to. I just want to share one of our successes so that it might help other parents.
With Flora we have met with many challenges when trying to bend her to our will at the high chair. In some respects we have failed miserably, and in others we have succeeded, like most parents.
For example, Flora does not like avocado, to our dismay and astonishment, because Andy and I both rather worship it. I am also disappointed as it is a super-healthy food source, easily prepared, with no nutritional drawbacks. Most kids love it. Typical that mine wouldn't, and inconvenient. She does, however, love beetroot and olives - things I am embarrassed to admit I couldn’t happily eat until my 20s.
There is no way to anticipate what she will like or dislike. I try not to insist because I sometimes wonder if when a child really objects to one specific thing, it means their body just really doesn’t want it, and it knows why.
However, I reject the proposition that anyone, and especially a child, will not eat any vegetables at all. By this I mean that I find it alarming, and thus objectionable. And yet I hear it a lot. And I feel, perhaps a little unfairly, that parents are often apt to give in too easily. This is problematic for mainly these three reasons:
children should learn that they should eat things that are good for them;
they require nourishment that they simply can't get without plants;
it's a bad precedent to allow children to avoid foods they don't find immediately appealing - this can be to their long-term cost.
Some select aversions are acceptable to a degree, but a blanket vegetable strike is a catastrophe. I know it’s tough to insist, but it has to done. And it is best done through stealth and patience rather than authoritarian, angry coercion, which can really backfire and make the dinner table a warzone, when it should be a haven of comestible delights.
One thing I have been determined to accomplish since Flora has been eating actual food, is that she will eat green vegetables every single day. As an aside, I regret to inform you that peas are not vegetables. They’re legumes, so that doesn’t count. A legume is a seed that grows in a pod – nutritionally different, and according to some questionable, since legumes are higher in phytates than vegetables.
Phytates are anti-nutrients, in that while they can have antioxidant properties, they are also known to inhibit mineral absorption in some circumstances (this is one of the reasons it’s useful to know the optimal food combinations). And while your body needs minerals, it doesn’t need phytates. That said, if you have a balanced diet you shouldn’t worry about eating peas, and legumes also present many benefits, but if your diet is heavily dependent on beans, you might need to consider that your absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium and copper could be affected.
Bottom line, if your child will only eat peas, it’s just not enough.
The vegetable issue has at times been tricky for us, as it is for many parents, because the only green vegetable Flora will pick up and eat voluntarily is broccoli, like many children her age. So we devised a couple of ways to insert veg into her favourite meals. Not complicated, nothing particularly ingenious, but worth a shot if you struggle, and despair of getting anything not beige into your child.
The first is that we buy organic frozen kale and spinach pellets, and put them in all the rice and pasta she has. In fact, anything that goes on the hob. We made sure there was green in almost everything she ate from early on, so it would be normal. They taste of nothing, and Flora loves pasta and cheese so much that she will not quibble over some tasteless green flakes she doesn’t have to chew.
The second is that we slice cabbage up very thinly, steam it and add it to mash or pasta. It is very mild in taste, and almost invisible in sauce, so she doesn’t really notice it.
The third is that we basically include greens in all her favourite dishes. She loves fish pie for example, so we always put lots of greens in it.
Fourth is a bit of bargaining. If she is refusing to eat her broccoli or soup because she wants only pasta, we negotiate. One bit of broccoli, one spoonful of pasta. It works. She seems to think this is fair, on the whole. After a brief standoff we usually come out victorious as she realises that compromise is going to get her some pasta, and that the broccoli is actually not that bad. She is temperamental. Sometimes she wolfs soup down, sometimes she needs to be encouraged, but we are steadfast. It is only when we are exhausted and have no time that we feed her a potato waffle and baked beans for dinner. I don’t feel guilty if I know it’s very occasional.
And the last is that we feed her soup a couple of times a week - the magic green soup, and she loves it. This soup is kind of genius, and here's why:
It’s dead easy to make
The whole family can eat it
You can make it in advance and eat it for several days, reheated
You can freeze it
You can put pretty much anything you want in it, using it as a base you can adapt
You can add tempting ingredients: cheese, yoghurt, cream, cream cheese, tuna…
You can make it more substantial with rice, quinoa or lentils
You can hide all manner of things in it, like garlic
You retain more nutrients that with boiling veg as you eat the liquid in which they cook
And of course it's yummy, with a taste that is mild but flavoursome, and therefore palatable to immature tastebuds.
One of my great quests is to feed Flora raw garlic. She doesn’t like it much, and fair dos. It’s a big ask of a two-year old, I agree. Cooked is fine because it isn’t strong, but it isn’t as potently healthful as raw crushed garlic, the benefits of which cannot be overstated.
So I started with a tiny weeny bit of raw garlic in her soup, well mixed in. She didn’t pick up on it. And gradually I started to put small amounts of raw garlic into pasta, mash… and she doesn’t seem to mind now. Sometimes I push my luck and put too much in and she rebels, and I concede. But broadly speaking I get her to eat some raw garlic on a regular basis, and I stand in the kitchen smiling smugly as Andy feeds her the garlic spiked-dinner. I put raw garlic in a large proportion of my own meals, and Andy’s which he variably likes and tolerates. I do overdo it a bit sometimes, in my nutritional zeal.
Anyway this soup is a childhood favourite of mine, and another from my maternal great-grandmother’s culinary legacy. The ingredients are similar to the French mirepoix base recipe. As with all my favourite recipes, you can’t mess this up. Different ratios and ingredient variations just make a slightly different soup. However, there are a few ways to make it optimal. Some important considerations:
chop the veg quite small, and only cook for as long as necessary to avoid cooking out all the goodness
add the greens right at the end
don’t even think of omitting the coriander
If you can, make the stock fresh. We usually make a roast chicken on Sunday, then immediately make the stock and the soup that afternoon, and have dinner sorted for Monday – cold chicken and soup – which is one of my great pleasures in life: healthy dinner ready to go. Conscience easy, and sink empty.
For the stock:
Put the carcass and the leftover juices and herbs etc. into a large pan and just cover with boiling water. Then simmer on very low for about an hour.
Otherwise use stock cubes – vegetable or chicken, and follow packet instructions. You need about a litre of water, depending on the thickness you like. You can always dilute it at the end if necessary.
For the soup, to make about eight bowls:
2-3 sticks of celery
2-3 large parsnips, or 5-6 medium white potatoes.
a large bunch of coriander - absolutely vital!
a large bunch of flat leaf parsley
a packet of kale, chard, watercress or spinach, about 200g, or all four!
salt and pepper, if you like
a clove or two of garlic
I recommend all organic chicken and veg, then no need to peel anything as the skins are full of nutrients.
1. Wash and chop the veg up small and put it all, apart from the herbs and greens, into the hot stock in the largest pan you have. You can skim off bit of the fat if you like but do leave some.
2. Allow to almost boil, and then turn the heat down to medium for about 15-20 minutes, or until the carrots are soft.
3. Turn the heat off, and add in the greens and herbs and stir them in, and then put the lid on. Allow them to steam for five minutes with the heat off. They will cook perfectly with the heat in the soup.
4. With a stick blender, whizz until a you get a smooth but thick soupy consistency. Season if you like. For children, don’t season the whole batch but individual adult servings.
5. Serve up with enthusiasm alongside something your child likes – cheese on toast for example – for encouragement. Best if the whole family eats the same meal.
6. If feeling brave and confident, crush in a smidgen of raw garlic and mix in well.
7. Repeat as needed!
Note: for dinner this evening I mixed some of the soup with the previous post/last night's curry and it was utterly delicious!