You know the old saying that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Essentially, it’s always better to teach children good habits, than to try and retrain adults. The habit of healthy eating is no exception. I think of myself as a healthy eater, but realize that with age the calories add up more quickly and the need to continually look for leaner options increases. With childhood obesity and poor diets headlining daily media reports, I see the need for our family to trend our eating habits in the direction of higher fiber and less fat.
A recent study of grains led me to expand my side dish repertoire to include quinoa, a plant seed that when cooked has a light, rice-like texture and taste. Versatile in its ability to take on other flavors and absorb seasonings makes it a ready substitute for heavier carb staples. Similar to couscous, it marries well with vegetables, fruits and proteins.
The best way I know to get buy-in from the youngest family members is to involve them in the meal-making process. When they help cook they are generally excited to sample, even if it’s something they have never tried. Discussing where food comes from, like South America in the case of quinoa, brings an element of culture and place to the experience. Adding ingredients they know and like also increases the likelihood of acceptance.
For our first meal incorporating quinoa, I tossed the cooked plant seed with honey citrus vinaigrette, sliced pork and dried fruit. The slightly sweet dressing enticed even the five year old to give the new taste a try. Studded with dried fruit, the citrusy taste carried through making the sweet-savory dish pleasing to even our preschooler. Skepticism suppressed, we all agreed that this was a not only a suitable rice/pasta substitute, but one we’d like to revisit.
Quinoa is widely available at most grocers where other carbs such as rice and couscous are displayed. A rinse in cold water is recommended to remove bitter saponins that cling to the outer covering. Freed of this extract, the cooked version is light in taste and has a pearly texture. Butter lettuce and greens add crunch and make it into a light salad meal, but when making it for a family of kiddos, I recommend leaving the lettuce out of their portion. After all they aren’t that keen on quinoa just yet.
Recipe for Fruited Quinoa Salad