Vegetables are a "hard sell," says Al Muhlnickel, foodservice director for a New York state school district that recently received a $100,000 grant to provide fresh, locally produced food for students. School nutrition professionals have gotten creative with the menu by including a mix of roasted peppers and zucchini with herbs and a flourless blondie made with chickpeas.
Some chefs in the nation's capital are tweaking their normally meat-heavy menus to offer flavorful dishes of fresh, seasonal vegetables to woo not only the vegetarian crowd, but omnivore diners searching for healthier options. "It's really important to use healthy fats and high-quality oils, vinegars and herbs for seasoning," said Ethan McKee of Urbana in Washington, D.C. "It's also especially important to cook with the seasons for vegetarian dishes because you're locking in produce at its peak freshness and flavor. Finally, when you add in legumes and grains like quinoa or farro, you can create a very interesting, satisfying dish."
Making vegetables part of each meal and snack can encourage children to eat more of them, but hiding veggies in recipes is not a long-term solution, registered dietitian Natalia Stasenko writes. Since children may find some vegetables have a bitter taste, Stasenko writes that it's OK to serve a flavorful dip or add a little sugar, salt or cheese because the nutrition benefits outweigh the splurge.
Expand your vegetable repertoire by picking up unique varieties at the farmers market and experimenting with them at home. Veggies such as kohlrabi are great for slaws and salads while mizuna can be cooked into stews and stir-fries.
School-nutrition professionals in Madison, Wis., are working to improve the nutrition of meals despite outdated facilities and other challenges. An important step, officials say, is a donation that allowed schools to install salad bars. District foodservices director Steve Youngbauer said students are more likely to find vegetables they like to eat when they are given the selection offered in a salad bar.