if your kids don’t eat their broccoli.
It all begins with the senses– in particular our inter-related senses of taste and smell.
The tongue can taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory or what we now call umami.
We also have receptors for fat, briny- as in alkaline – metallic and water. Yes, even a non-taste like water rates receptors.
There are good evolutionary reasons to taste bitter – Poisonous plants tend to be bitter. Makes sense that we would therefore be sensitive to bitter.
Children, in particular, are sensitive to bitter. As we age we can override our aversion to bitterness and even come to enjoy the taste – arugula is a great example of a bitter herb we adults enjoy, along with other bitter greens, cruciferous vegetables, radishes, even horseradish. Many of us appreciate a bitter IPA. Not me, but many of us…
The same chemicals that make broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables stink and taste like sulfur are the same chemicals that may (I say may because some of these same compounds, indoles in particular, are also known carcinogens.) contain anti cancer and anti aging properties. But the smell and taste can be off-putting for kids. For me as well. While I love brussels sprouts, cabbage, and some bitter greens, I can barely stomach broccoli. According to my taste buds, the bitterness- the sulphoraphane – predominates.
Of course cooked broccoli smells worse than raw broccoli. Cooking, especially over-cooking, not only releases the sulfur compounds, it may destroy some or most of the health benefits.
However, broccoli contains oligosaccharides, which makes the plant difficult to digest since our body lacks the enzyme to digest oligosaccharides. Thus broccoli can cause cramping, gas and bloating. Broccoli actually tops a few of the lists – Foods that are difficult for children to digest. In addition broccoli contains a class of natural toxins called goitrogens which suppress the function of the thyroid gland.
Years ago I read a book, maybe it was an article, regardless I can’t find it anywhere. It was entitled: Why Kids Won’t Eat Broccoli. It made perfect sense to me.
I never stressed about feeding my young kids broccoli. I included it whenever I served a vegetable tray and they could eat it or not. It’s a reasonable addition to macaroni and cheese. It’s pretty good roasted, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and a little bit of plain old white sugar (counteracts some of the bitterness). It’s terrific covered with cheese sauce. But it’s not the perfect food. No one food is.
My kids actually prefer the following alternatives:
Broccolini– Broccolini is not baby broccoli although it is in the same family. It has smaller heads and long thin stalks- all edible, even the yellow flowers. It has a much milder flavor– sweeter. It is high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K (be aware if you are on blood thinners), calcium, iron and folate.
Broccoli Rabe or Rapini (I like to think this is what Rapunzel’s mother craved)– Broccoli Rabe is actually in the mustard/turnip family. When cooked it’s less bitter than broccoli and gives off no sulfur smell. It’s a little nutty and a lot versatile. It’s high in fiber, pantothenic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K (again, be aware if you are on blood thinners), B vitamins, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc.
I make a great broccoli rabe mustard pasta.
Julia’s Super Simple Ziti with Mustard and Broccoli Rabe
1 box Ziti – cook according to directions. I prefer my Ziti al dente.
1 big bunch broccoli rabe, washed and coarsely chopped
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 heaping Tbs. whole grain mustard
1 lb. chicken or turkey sausage
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tsp. red chili flakes
1/4 – 1/2 cup chicken broth as needed
1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream as needed
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Saute the sausage and garlic in olive oil. Cook until sausage is nearly done. Turn off heat but leave the pan on the burner. The sausage will finish cooking. Cook pasta. While pasta is cooking, clean and chop broccoli rabe. Two minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli rabe to the simmering water. When the pasta is tender, drain. Turn on burner. Add pasta and broccoli rabe to the sausage. Add the whole grain mustard, salt and pepper, and add a little chicken broth, enough to allow you to stir the mustard through. Add the chili flakes and additional chicken broth and cream as needed. Cook down a bit. The pasta dish should not be watery. Turn off heat. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
So no worries if your kids don’t like broccoli. They’ll still grow up and chances are one day they’ll appreciate bitter greens.