When was the last time you ate a piece of unadorned steamed broccoli? Can you say you enjoyed it? Did one bite make you want to take another?
Once I had my daughter, I decided I didn’t want her to eat vegetables solely because they’re healthy. Nor did I want to hide them in baked goods or other foods. I wanted to cook them so they would taste so good, she’d learn to enjoy—or even request—them.
The secret to making craveable vegetables, of course, is salt.
The reason salt makes food taste like a better version of itself is that it enhances sweetness and tanginess while reducing our ability to taste bitterness. It also intensifies the aromas of food, and since we smell so many more compounds than we can taste, that’s a powerful flavor-booster.
In the beginning, I was nervous about adding sodium to my daughter’s baby food, but in Dr. Michel Cohen’s book, The New Basics, he assures readers, “Babies can handle salt as well as adults can.” So after she was about 8 months old, I started adding tiny pinches to her vegetable purées, and I didn’t stress about feeding her soft pieces of my already seasoned dinner.
I firmly believe salt helped her overcome her aversion to anything leafy.
As she moved past the purées, I started giving her bite-sized pieces of roasted squash or carrots, often seasoned with a little salt and cumin or coriander. I also steamed frozen broccoli florets, breaking them into even smaller pieces and finishing them with olive oil and a little pinch of salt. Even as she became more suspicious of vegetables, especially anything green or leafy, she continued to love broccoli prepared this way; for a while, it was one of the only vegetables she’d eat.
When she was old enough, around age 3, I introduced a new rule: She had to take at least one bite of everything on the table. She initially pushed away the roasted cauliflower florets I put on her plate, but when she finally tasted how the salt brought out the sweetness and toastiness of the oven-browned cauliflower, she ate them all and asked for more.
I firmly believe salt helped her overcome her aversion to anything leafy after she tried some Savoy cabbage quickly sautéed with olive oil and a little salt. The leaves were still crisp but also rich tasting and almost meaty, thanks to salt’s magical transformative abilities.
Now, when we cook together, she loves to add the salt. We talk about sprinkling it lightly and how it’s like a fairy dust that makes the food taste better. Once or twice, she’s added too much, and we taste the harsh, overly salty results so she can see that more isn’t always better.
Remember, most processed foods have much more sodium than you will likely add while cooking. Unless someone in your family has a medical reason to avoid salt, there’s no reason you shouldn’t use a liberal hand with it. You might just find that your kids are finally happy to eat their vegetables. Fairy dust, indeed.
Kristin Donnelly is the author of Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter 2016) and Cauliflower (Short Stack Editions 2018). She has acted as a doula for many other cookbooks and lives and works in New Hope, PA.
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