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Kid Tested, Mother Approved

Think you can’t get your kids to eat summer’s bounty of squash? Try these kid approved recipes!

Photography By Donovan Roberts Witmer and Styling By Keely Childers Heany

Getting kids to eat their veggies and other good-for-them stuff is no picnic for many parents. It’s certainly an issue in my house. When my son was a baby, he ate anything we gave him, from avocados to olives. Now that he’s three, well, not so much. But I keep plugging away, offering good things at every meal so that he starts to recognize what a good meal actually is.

I get where he’s coming from. I wanted nothing more than to eat white bread and sugary cereal as a kid, but that was a no-go in our house. Now, as an adult, that has stuck with me, and I actually prefer the healthier fare. I’m holding out hope that if I’m consistent and persistent, the same will hold true for my son—eventually. He might turn up his nose at Brussels sprouts 100 times, but maybe on that 101st try, he’ll take a bite and love them as much as I do. 

Sadly, there’s no magic formula to guarantee gustatory success in the produce department. Kids are kids, and all of them are different from one another. But “kid-friendly” and “healthy” don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms. There are ways you can transition subtly into better-for-you foods. Lots of kids really enjoy bread, pasta and rice, so an easy place to start is to swap in healthier “brown” whole-grain ingredients in place of “white” ones. You can do this with breads, pizza dough, crackers, rice and pasta. Several brands, such as Hodgson Mill and Pagliacci, even offer wagon wheel–shaped pasta made from vegetables. All kids will notice are the fun shapes and colors.

And now on to the green (and yellow) stuff. Fresh produce is plentiful in Pennsylvania this time of year, including berries, tomatoes, herbs, sweet corn, melons and more. But let’s not forget the less-showy summer squash. Zucchini and yellow squash are a great addition to your summertime table. First, their versatility and mild flavor make them an excellent add-in to many dishes, including sweet or savory baked goods. Squash are low in calories and high in fiber and important antioxidants, and their thin skins and small shapes make them easy to handle (unlike, say, butternut squash).

Christine Burns Rudalevige, a food writer, recipe developer and chef who recently moved from Carlisle to Maine with her family, provides a totally different take on pasta by omitting the pasta altogether. Instead of spaghetti, Rudalevige uses zucchini, which she juliennes into strips or peels into wider “noodles” with a vegetable peeler. She tosses the cooked zucchini with olive oil, garlic and a generous helping of Parmesan cheese. Topping the “zuccaghetti” with tomato sauce and a meatball or two works well, too. (Roasted spaghetti squash, as its name implies, is a good pasta substitute, as well.)

Rudalevige says, “I’ve demonstrated how to make this dish to well over 100 children in the past year. Only one spit it out. Twenty—and still counting!—have asked for the recipe. In the war on getting kids to eat more veggies, I consider that progress.”

Breads and muffins are easy places to add grated zucchini. Terra Brownback, who operates the certified-organic Spiral Path Farm in Loysville, Perry County, with her husband, Mike, makes a quick bread that pairs the squash with chocolate chips. What kid doesn’t love chocolate? In addition, the Brownbacks make a version of a crabcake—sans crab—with zucchini that’s pan-fried and eaten in a bun as a sandwich. Another squash option from Spiral Path is to bake it in a cheesy casserole—another kid-pleasing way to serve veggies.

Amanda Benoit, a Mechanicsburg-based food blogger and mother of three (soon to be four!), admits that her kids have gone through bouts of pickiness—including a period when her oldest daughter refused to eat any vegetables at all. Benoit used a sneak attack to combat this by pureeing vegetables and adding them to meals her daughter liked, such as sloppy joes and meatloaf. Now, Benoit says, the rule at the dinner table is that everyone has to try at least one bite of everything—vegetable or otherwise.

An avid cook, baker, canner and gardener (which she chronicles on her blog, Dabblings and Whimsey), Benoit tries to involve her children in every step of the process. They help her plant seeds in the garden, and she talks to them about food during trips to the grocery store. Benoit also has her kids assist her with the cooking and baking whenever possible.

“Any meal that they can be involved in making,” she says, “they’re much more likely to eat. I try to get them as involved in the kitchen as possible.”
Benoit’s final words of wisdom for parents struggling with picky eaters? Don’t stress. “You do what you can,” she says.

Summer Squash Bake

Recipe courtesy Terra Brownback, Spiral Path Farm

2 cups grated zucchini (with skins)
1 cup grated yellow squash (with skins)
1 ½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
3 eggs
1 cup flour
½ cup milk
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
(or 1 Tbs fresh chopped basil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup onion, minced
Sliced tomatoes, for topping (if desired)
Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients together in one bowl, except tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. Butter a 9x9-inch glass pan, casserole dish or 6 single serving ramekins. Spread mixture in pan or ramekins. Top with sliced tomatoes, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes. Allow to cool and then cut into squares. Enjoy warm or cold.

“Zuccaghetti”

Recipe courtesy Christine Burns Rudalevige
Serves 4 as a main course

8 small zucchini (about 2 pounds)
1 Tbs kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil
2–3 garlic cloves, minced
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Tomato sauce (optional)
 

Julienne the zucchini or peel into wider strips with a vegetable peeler. Place strips in a colander, sprinkle with the salt, and let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and squeeze out the excess moisture. In a skillet, heat olive oil.  Sauté garlic until you can just begin to smell it. Stir in red pepper flakes (if using). Add zucchini, and stir until coated and warmed through (about 60–90 seconds). Serve warm with a sprinkling of Parmesan, or topped with tomato sauce.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cupcakes

Recipe courtesy Terra Brownback, Spiral Path Farm
Makes 12 cupcakes or 2 loaves

2 ½ cups flour 
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 ½ tsp baking powder 
1 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp cinnamon 
¾ tsp salt 
1 cup sugar 
3 large eggs or ¾ cup egg substitute
½ cup unsweetened applesauce 
¹⁄³ cup vegetable oil 
2 tsp vanilla 
2 cups packed, grated zucchini 
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If making loaves, spray or lightly grease two 8x4-inch loaf pans with oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs or egg substitute, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Stir in zucchini. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and stir until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Place in prepared pans and bake for 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in pan, and then remove. Or, if making cupcakes, bake for 25 minutes and cool before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting (optional)

2 (8 oz packages) ¹⁄³ less fat cream cheese
4 cups confectioners sugar
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
Beat until smooth and spread on cupcakes or loaf.

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