Okay, we all know that the cooler temperatures have kids requesting comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, but remember to take advantage of fall's bumper crop of fruits and vegetables too. Farmers markets and local stores are stocked with apples, pears, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkin, carrots, cauliflower and more.
“When I think of fall foods, the first that comes to my mind’s eye is color. Inspire children with the colors of the season. It’s a fun time of year,” says Margaret Mittelstadt, director of community relations at Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative.
Of course, as parents we know there is an added benefit to enjoying local produce. Treating your family to these seasonal delights means everyone will have nutritional benefits too. “It is important to introduce children to a variety of colors in vegetables and fruits from an early age,” says Anne VanBeber, professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “I like to say ‘Eat the Rainbow’ and encourage families to try the whole color spectrum of vegetables and fruits.” Eating a variety of colors is a simple way for parents to know they are providing a range of vitamins and minerals to the family diet.
So, let’s eat the autumn rainbow!
Cranberries are a local red favorite. Different than other classic fruits, cranberries grow on low vines near the ground and thrive in cool climates near wet marshlands. The berries flourish on Wisconsin land, providing residents, and cranberry lovers across the country, with the tart taste enjoyed in juices, salads, jellies and cookies. The berry gets its name because its blossoms resemble a sandhill crane, specifically the bird’s long neck and red forehead. Originally called a crane berry, the name was shortened to cranberry, a fun fact that could lead children to explore images of cranes and cranberries to see if they see the resemblance themselves.
Orange foods include acorn squash, butternut squash, and, of course, pumpkins. Winter squashes take longer to mature than the summer squashes and have an outer skin that is tough. Autumn squashes are ideal for baking (and stuffing), and are wonderful roasted or pureed into soup.
While cooked pumpkins are a flavorful addition to dinners, muffins and pies, some use the squash for another purpose. Since many children like soups and stews, Kathy Wright, nutrition program director at Mansfield University in Mansfield, PA, makes something called a pumpkin stew. “It doesn’t contain pumpkin. It is stew filled with colorful vegetables, cooked on the stove, and baked in a pumpkin. I have a vegetarian version and a beef version. Kids love the presentation and usually ask for seconds,” says Wright.
Apples and pears are typically an elementary age crowd-pleaser, so these sweet yellow treats are often an easy sell for kids. But if you have young ones who turns their noses up to fruits, or are simply looking for another way to use up the fall apples that have taken over every kitchen surface, know there are plenty of fun fall options other than a sliced apple on a plate. Baking apples in a crock pot provides a yummy treat while filling the house with a spectacular smell. Or make applesauce, wrap apple slices with cheese in a tortilla for lunches, dry apples for future snacks, create apple kabobs, or bake them into a satisfying pie.
Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and other hearty greens can have a strong flavor, but if you roast the vegetables, which brings out the sugars, your little ones may be surprised to find they enjoy some of nature’s green bounty. Of course, you can add these nutritional powerhouses to other foods as well. If you do bake greens into another dish, get kids involved in the kitchen. It could increase the chances they’ll sample the final results.
Mittelstadt suggests parents of young kids “set up a tall chair for them to sit on while they watch you assemble your recipes. Have them participate whenever they can, even if it’s just to lick the spoon. Or try making creamy vegetable pot pies using ready-made puff pastry or pie crusts.”
Potatoes, carrots, beets and other root vegetables can be found in this rich deep color. Roast ‘em, mash ‘em, braise ‘em, or boil ‘em. There are many options with these versatile vegetables, and often a simple root vegetable roast will please everyone at the dinner table.
Simply cut all of your veggies to a similar size and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. You can toss everything right in your baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour. Stir every 15 minutes or so. Pull your pan out of the oven once your vegetables are soft and savory.
Or “a bubbly, cheesy gratin can also help win over young root veggie skeptics. Look for delicious local cheeses; some even come pre-shredded for convenience,” suggests Mittelstadt.
Enticing kids to eat their veggies
When serving any vegetable as a side dish to picky eaters, a good rule of thumb is to go light on the main option. If kids are hungry, they are more likely to eat their vegetables, especially if the part of the meal they prefer is in short supply. And if you and you child become more interested in cooking during the winter months ahead, start planning for a garden in spring.
If you have the space to grow food, know that children who grow, harvest, or help with cooking are more likely to eat colorful vegetables. But if you don’t have the time or inclination, taking kids to the market with you can have the same effect. Allowing children to help to select colorful vegetables improves their desire to eat them.
As a fan of apple picking, pie baking, blue jeans and sweaters, Mali Anderson’s favorite season is autumn.