Since I work in the food world, people assume my 7-year-old daughter is a great eater who consumes oysters and sushi with gusto. But she still isn’t sold on raw fish and has her picky moments just like any other kid. Like any well-meaning mom, I try to get as many fruits and vegetables into her diet, which isn’t always easy. Somehow, broccoli is one of her favorite vegetables. Since I end up cooking for her friends a lot, I’ve gotten a read on what is a “safe” vegetable to serve kids. And I find nearly every child (even the pickiest of eaters) who comes to my house loves broccoli.
I don’t know what it is about the cruciferous vegetable that kids like, but I like how filling and healthy it is. Broccoli is a genuine wonder vegetable for your body. It’s one of the healthiest vegetables out there — not to mention low in calories if you care about such things. A cup of broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange, and it’s also high in calcium, vitamin K, fiber, potassium, iron, zinc, riboflavin and folate, to name a few. Some research has shown broccoli reduces the risk of cancer, offers protection against cell damage, and reduces blood sugar levels.
I am not above hiding broccoli in meatballs or smothering it in cheese sauce, but I’m also trying to teach my daughter an appreciation for whole foods. My five-minute pasta sauce is an excellent way to get kids to enjoy broccoli in its purest form, and it’s somehow a hit with the pickiest of kids.
Don’t be scared if you’re not the best cook. Your kid doesn’t need to be a foodie to enjoy these dishes, and you don’t need to be a professional chef. The recipes are so straightforward that you could probably make them with your kids (which I always find increases the chance that they will actually eat the food). Even if they just cut the broccoli with a child-safe knife, getting them involved in the process at an early age is beneficial for all. Encouraging kids to take ownership of the cooking process will ensure that they will eat what you serve. Even if it is as simple as letting them push the button on the blender or seasoning the food (with salt you give them in a dish), there’s no downside. And it’s also excellent quality time. Some of the best conversations happen when you’re cooking side by side with your kid.
Cheesy Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Whenever my family needs something soothing, I make this casserole. Not only does this recipe come together quickly, but you can also assemble it the night before and then bake it when you get the kids home from school the next day. It’s also the meal I deliver to friends in need of something nutritious and filling when they have a new baby. It’s also easily customizable, so feel free to switch out the rice for brown rice or quinoa if you prefer whole grains. You can also omit the chicken and substitute vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian dish.
Broccoli Pasta Sauce
There is something about the intense green color of this sauce that makes kids love it. I love it because it takes 5 minutes to prepare. You can play around with the pasta shape and choose whichever is more likely to entice your kids to eat. Don’t be afraid to blanket this with a good dose of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper. I usually serve this with a simple salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. This recipe makes enough to sauce a pound of pasta.
Broccoli, Salmon, Chickpea and Red Onion Sheet-pan Bake
I am a fan of anything that can be assembled and cooked in one vessel. That’s why sheet-pan bakes are a permanent fixture in my household. This recipe is a regular on meatless Mondays. The dish comes together very quickly, making it a serious weeknight savior. If you are an early riser, you can assemble the pan in the morning and cover it with plastic wrap, so it’s ready to pop in the oven when you get home. You can also substitute with a different fish such as halibut or mahi-mahi if salmon isn’t your thing. Just make sure it has a high oil content and some thickness, so it doesn’t dry out while the broccoli roasts.
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