Monday, May 30, 2016


Kale: Taking the first bite

Kale is a nutrient-dense, leafy green vegetable that is a good source of calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Even with its stellar nutrient profile,  kale does not seem to rank high on the average person’s food preference scale and it is often avoided. Two major reasons for this are that kale and other dark leafy greens have a mild to sharply bitter flavor and traditional methods of cooking them (e.g. steaming and boiling) do not improve meal-time appeal.

There are many ways to improve the appeal of kale. For example, the sourness of citrus juice is a lovely contrast to the bitter undertones of dark green vegetables. Fats from dressings, oils, nuts, seeds and avocados do a wonderful job of masking the bitterness as well. Therefore, I encourage you to try a new way of preparing kale. Simply sauté for a few minutes (with flavorful additions such as onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, kumquats, etc.) or make a massaged kale salad by following the recipe outline below:

• Wash the kale, pat dry, remove stems, and tear the leaves into smaller pieces.
• Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt (1 tsp/8 cups kale), and massage until kale just begins to wilt.
• Then add: chopped avocado (2 avocados/8 cups kale), a squeeze of lemon juice (1 lemon/8 cups kale), and thinly sliced red onion.
• Massage once more until the avocado becomes a creamy dressing. Leave some chunks of avocado please!
• Season to taste with black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional.)

This spring, I demonstrated how to prepare this simple and delicious kale salad at the Know Your Farmer Fair in Windham. The event was a first annual collaboration between nonprofit organizations: GROW Windham and CLICK Inc. Both organizations are rooted in food justice, sustainable agriculture, community outreach, and small business development. During this event, I had the pleasure of meeting a mother and her daughter. The mother hesitated when I offered them a sample of the kale salad. She explained that, despite all of her efforts, her 4-year-old daughter would not try kale.

I explained to her daughter that the kale was made a special way. I asked her if she liked avocados, and she nodded her head. I showed her the avocado pieces in the salad and asked if she would like to try it. She said yes! Later, mom and daughter returned for the recipe and information about the farm who generously donated the kale.

Children (and adults alike) can be very particular about the food they eat. In addition to flavor, texture and overall mouth feel are very important things to pay attention to. For example, a child might not like the soft, moist texture of cooked broccoli but he or she might eat an entire bowl of crunchy raw broccoli with his or her favorite dressing. Another way to encourage children to try new foods is to use different cooking methods and pair new foods with their favorites. Also consider having your children help you in the kitchen.

Research shows that children who are more active in food selection and preparation will be more likely to try new foods. Food avoidance is often more than a generic dislike of the food itself. It is often a reflection of a child’s desire to be independent and to make their own food choices. So give your child the opportunity to have an active role in food selection and preparation by asking them to help you choose a recipe, and also to help you find the ingredients in the grocery store. Make it a scavenger hunt!

If you decide to take this step please understand that there are many factors that can contribute to a child’s eating behaviors. Children are very observant and learn food behaviors from parents, siblings, and other role models. Attention parents and guardians: If you want your children to be adventurous and try new, healthful foods, you need to be adventurous too!

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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