A quick and nutritious sweet potato meal for one, with stir-fried greens and mushrooms and topped with an easy homemade piri piri sauce. Easily doubled etc.
One of my friends recently asked me about quick, healthy dinners for one: she doesn’t live alone.
My friend, we will call her Kay, is the mum of two sweet, sweet boys whose only “flaw” is that they have yet to embrace vegetables. It’s obviously not a flaw, just a growing up thing. But it is frustrating when you are a health-aware parent and your kids are, well, kids.
Between us we have tried to get them to eat vegetables – very gently – but so far we haven’t made a whole lot of progress. We are starting to make small inroads with her eldest. He will give things an enthusiastic try, mainly to please his Mum. But his palate wants quick fuel. Teenaged boys tend to be more enthusiastic about pizza than pak choi; they are funny that way.
As a busy mum who works outside the home, she is a bit weary of preparing two different meals a night. Or just the one meal that appeals to them but plonking down a side salad for herself. Or heating something up from the supermarket chiller cabinet.
Does this sound familiar?I hear that a lot at work. I see cancer patients who really want to change their and their families diets for the better but who have a difficult time getting their kids onboard. Sometimes spouses, too.
Just when they need to manage their energy some are having to make two, or even three, different meals at dinner time. My heart just sinks when I hear this. I largely encourage them to concentrate on getting more nutrients into their own diet and giving their family simple food like omelettes, pasta or even the best quality prepared food that they can afford – reading the label and recognising the ingredients as actual food.
And always offering vegetables, whether or not the family eats them. Anything left can always go into another meal for themselves.
Leading by example without making a fuss can and does give results.
Not immediately of course. But oftentimes our kids will outgrow their childish eating and gradually move towards making better food choices. It is of course more likely to happen if their school and the immediate environment makes this easier. I really like that Tesco (the largest UK supermarket) gives out free fruit to children. I know it’s not vegetables, but it is a positive message about eating “real” food.
In my experience, roasted vegetables, mashes and stir fried vegetables are the most likely to appeal to vegetable-phobes.
Roasted vegetables, especially carrots, attract kids that like sweet food. A little drizzle of maple syrup should definitely do the trick. Stir fries, that great midweek staple, draw in the kids who might like the smell (like a Chinese carry out!); the pop and sizzle; the drama of flames under a wok. If you can get them to help with age-appropriate tasks (chopping veg for the older ones; shaking on soy sauce for the younger ones) you might have even more success. And there is always a little bribery. I’m not averse to that for the occasional dinner. Just don’t bribe with sweets. 🙂
Another issue that isn’t always recognised is that some of us – myself included – are funny about texture.
My food nightmares almost always centre around texture. Even writing the words trifle and jelly make my skin crawl. With vegetables it might not be the vegetable itself, but the form. If you always try and serve al dente carrots, or raw ones, try them as a mash. Roasted and then mashed is amazing. Or if you always serve them cooked, try grated as this makes them taste a little sweeter.
I could go on and on about this subject as I speak about it on an almost daily basis, but I have a page that covers it pretty well. If you have family who don’t share your love of vegetables – because I know you must love them if you read me! – read my page, “Learn to Like – Love! – Vegetables“. On it I cover the concept of super tasters, texture, previous exposures as well as practical tips and meal ideas to try with your family while still eating what you want.
Sweet potatoes can be a good place to start when trying to introduce children to vegetables. They were one of the first weaning foods for my daughter Rachel, oh, 21 years ago. Mash or lightly roasted are always good, but baked is very nice and really versatile. But it can take a bit of time. Here is my quick and dirty way to make perfect “baked” sweet potatoes. And don’t worry about the nutrients being lost: 90 per cent of Vitamin C is retained with quick cooking methods.
Perfect “Baked” Sweet Potatoes
Microwave – Scrub a medium sized sweet potato and prick a few times with a sharp knife or a fork. Dampen a few joined sheets of paper towel and loosely wrap around the sweet potato. Microwave on High for 8-10 minutes, turning over halfway through. The time depends on your microwave’s power – start with eight minutes. The damp paper towel is crucial for getting an evenly cooked and soft sweet potato with no chewy dry ends.
Oven – If you have more time, prick the sweet potato (do more than one if possible and use the rest in other recipes) and bake in the oven – directly on the oven rack – for 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the potato and how old it is (older ones take longer to cook). Lightly squeeze the potato with a cloth-covered hand; it will “give” in your hand when it is done.
The following recipe may not appeal to the vegetable shunners in your family, but maybe try them on the plain baked sweet potato and top with baked beans and cheese while you get on with the interesting stuff. 🙂
Sweet Potato with Greens, Mushrooms and Spicy Sauce
A quick and nutritious sweet potato meal for one, with stir-fried greens and mushrooms and topped with an easy homemade piri piri sauce. Easily doubled etc. xx
1 medium sweet potato
1 tsp olive oil + extra for extending the sauce
30-40g or so of washed and sliced greens of choice – I used chard but kale, spinach, collards, even Asian greens, would be good
50g mushrooms of choice, sliced – I use shiitake but chestnut/cremini are a great choice, too
20g goat’s cheese or goat’s curd (what I used; it’s softer and tangier) or vegan ricotta
1-2 tbsp homemade piri piri sauce or other quality hot sauce of choice. My recipe isn’t very hot so may appeal to the family.
Fresh lemon juice (this helps us to better absorb the iron from the greens, as well as tastes great)
Prick the sweet potato 5-6 times and wrap loosely in damp paper towel. Cook on High in your microwave for 8-10 minutes. Try eight minutes first, turning over halfway through cooking. Or, bake the sweet potato in a 200C/400F oven for 35-45 minutes. If you opt for the oven do pop in a couple more to make use of the oven being on.
While the potato is cooking, heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a saute pan or wok (I use a wok) and stir fry the greens until wilted and soft. Pop them on a plate while you stir fry the mushrooms. It is important for some of us to thoroughly cook shiitake mushrooms* so I tend to do them separately, but with other mushrooms this isn’t crucial.
Mix the piri piri sauce with a little olive oil and some lemon juice.
Split the potato and spoon in the cooked vegetables and top with the cheese and sauce. Eat warm.
* some people get what is called shiitake dermatitis from raw shiitake due to the body having a hard time breaking down the polysaccharide, lentinan. It can make sufferers feel pretty itchy and weird for up to 10 days. Cooked shiitake are fine though.
RIPE FOR PINNING!