I’m the proud mother of three boys, 11-year-old twins and a 9-year-old, who enjoy eating everything. Even outrageous foods I will never dare to try, like eel sushi, frog legs, and chicken drumsticks.
More than anything else, I appreciate their appetite for veggies, cooked and raw. I kvelled to them, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can enjoy all the vegetables in the world?”
“We hate brussels sprouts,” they said.
They hated brussels sprouts before they even tried them. Ever since they heard somewhere they were supposed to hate them.
Despite its faithful appearance on holidays, the brussels sprout is the American vegetable villain. This role used to be played by spinach, until Popeye rescued it in the 1930s. Next came broccoli, reviled by the first President Bush, who famously said: “I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” A 2008 survey by Heinz shows that brussels sprouts now take the most-hated prize for Americans in general, with eggplant faring slightly worse among kids. Brussels sprouts seem to be universally loathed, practically: They make it to the top five in surveys of the most-hated vegetables around the world. From Just Disgusting, by Andy Griffiths, a book that was read to one of my sons in school recently:
Who wouldn’t hate them?
Apart from that, I love them.
No, I don’t. That was just a joke.
It’s true that brussels sprouts can taste bitter if they’re not picked at the right time. The best-tasting sprouts are young and small, and preferably harvested after a few frosts. These are not the sprouts that show up in most supermarkets. The frozen ones tend to be bitter, too. I grew up in Israel, where until recently frozen sprouts were the only kind available, and I understand the rejection. There’s also the strong odor sprouts give off when they’re cooked for too long.
You could replace the brussels sprouts with broccoli, kale, or chard and get most of the same benefits, including antioxidants and glucosinolate, which helps fight cancer. But I wanted to convince my family that sprouts didn’t deserve their bad reputation.
It was a test, of myself and them: If I found the right recipe, could I persuade my kids to eat something they were sure they didn’t like? When someone pushes away a bowl of plain steamed spinach, it’s not because they dislike spinach, but simply because they don’t like this boring steamed spinach. This is obvious but a mistake that gets made again and again.
Personally, I prefer my brussels sprouts the simplest way, roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt, until they have dark spots on the outer leaves. This does not work for my kids. It’s a recipe for advanced brussels-sprouts eaters—the flavor intensifies and it’s still a little bitter, an acquired taste for children.
In general, if you want to add a new ingredient to your diet, the best way is to incorporate it into your main dish or salad. I’ve done this in the past with pomegranate seeds, for example—I added them to tabbouleh, instead of tomatoes, and seasoned the salad with pomegranate syrup. Now I looked for a recipe in which the brussels sprouts were not the only main ingredient, so the dish would not be too intimidating.
Some of the recipes I found online sounded delicious, like brussels-sprout gratin, but included either cream or plenty of butter, which I didn’t want to use. Some would be perfect at a later stage, like the Sole With Lemon-Shallot Brussels Sprouts recipe from Epicurious.com, but wouldn’t work for my kids’ grand re-introduction.
For a second, I considered a recipe from the school of the sneaky, deceptive mom cooks—Missy Chase Lapine and Jessica Seinfeld. In their books, you can find recipes that secretly add veggies to innocent dishes, like spinach brownies and avocado chocolate fondue. How about a brussels-sprout cheesecake? This is all supposed to be in the name of feeding your children well, but I figured that cheating my kids on a daily basis was not a good idea. (When the Seinfeld kids find out, will they ask Jerry: “Did you know this all along, Daddy? And the whole country, too?”)
I decided to improvise and tried a split pea and brussels sprout soup with a couple of sausages—a whole meal. Initially, I made it chunky, but by the time it was fully cooked, the soup looked so awful that I pureed it until it was completely smooth. In fact, it was creamy and just delicious. The soup carried no trace of that slight sprout bitterness.
I called everyone to the table and announced the dinner menu. The kids were not happy but agreed to try it. To my pleasure, the twins emptied their bowls and admitted it was yummy. I must also confess, though, that their stubborn younger brother ate only half his soup, then pushed his bowl away and said: “How come you make us eat brussels sprouts? You know we all HATE it!” So, two out of three. I’ll take it.
Here are links to my recipes for Brussels Sprout and Split Pea Soup and Pomegranate and Herb Tabbouleh. Have you ever made up a recipe to get your kids to eat veggies by skillfully adding or including rather than hiding them? Send non-Jessica Seinfeld entries to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “Kid Recipe,” or to our Facebook page. We’ll publish some of your recipes and then ask readers to vote on the best one.