Over the years, I’ve had quite a few people ask me how to get their picky kids’ to eat vegetables. I have finally decided to address it, but before I get into that, please allow me to backtrack a moment.
I had it going on, friends. My two eldest boys would try everything and anything I put on their plates without balking. I was puffed up with all kinds of pride. If they didn’t like it, the guys would even take four or five bites before making up their minds and asking politely if they could be excused from the rest of what I’d put on their plates. I thought I had the formula down pat. Then came boys number three, four, and five, who taught me that I was living in a dream world.
These guys gave picky an adorable and immovable new face. Number Three established himself as Mr. British Pub Grub; he was thrilled if there was meat (sausage, primal cut, or shredded), potatoes, and the occasional corn or pea. Gravy? You betcha, but nary a fruit would pass his lips. Number Four was the fruit-i-tarian. He would eat any fruit -fresh or cooked- but preferred fresh. He was anti-vegetable to the extreme; no mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, corn, peas, or anything that wasn’t a French fried spud, and EGADS- no gravy. Number Five threw us all for a loop with his no veg/no fruit policy. He was okay with (paradoxically) French fries and the occasional Purple Cow Smoothie, but anything with texture beyond a glass of milk, hot dog, or hamburger was verboten.
I don’t mind telling you I was shocked and befuddled.
I tried every kind of method known to mankind to get vegetables into Numbers Three, Four, and Five. I cajoled, reasoned, limited choices, expanded choices, introduced fifty billion times, and straight up threatened. None of them worked. Number Three informed me, “Mama, it’s texture. I don’t mind if you put stuff in there if I can’t tell it’s there.”
…Thus began my wizardry at hiding vegetables. Anything that resembled a dried herb was a-okay with this crew (WHAT?!? Doesn’t matter. It works, so work it.), so I added dried herbs in abundance. If I grated carrots, zucchini, onions, and more with the food processor or on the cheese grater, then pulverized it in the food processor and added it to ground meat as it was browning, that was fine and dandy, too.
Branching out from these easily hide-able veggies was the challenge, though. The answer came in the form of an off-the-cuff observation by my stepmom, Valerie. She mentioned that she had been buying vegetables on clearance, dehydrating them, and adding them to soups, stews, and sauces. The lightbulb went off… If I dehydrated something and PULVERIZED it into a powder, NOBODY BUT ME WOULD KNOW.
Oh mercy. I have worked this six ways from Sunday. Dehydrated and smashed-to-smithereens bell peppers (any colour), corn, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and potatoes made it into every seemingly innocuous soup, stew, and smooth pasta sauce I made. I was killin’ the veggie hiding.**
**Before anyone goes nutty over me ‘lying’ to my kids to get them to eat vegetables, I’d like to point out that they ATE THE DADBURNED VEGETABLES that way. It wasn’t long before they spotted me adding different coloured powders to foods and asking what I was doing. I told them. They were fine with it. In fact, they kind of dig the idea that they’re eating Astronaut Power Powdered Food. Ahem. You heard me.
The oldest of the anti-veg contingent knows EXACTLY what I’m doing and is happy to get the nutrition without having to actually experience the vegetable texture. I call this a win.
My challenge was getting green stuff in there. They had a Spidey-sense when I threw in the dehydrated and powdered broccoli, cabbage, and any other cruciferous, strong-flavoured veggies. Then just a week or so ago, my genius little sister, Jessamine, mentioned that she dehydrated extra beet greens from her garden and crumbled them into soups for extra vitamins and minerals. Holy moly. It’s pretty good to be related to smart people.
I went to my local farmers’ market and cleaned out the vendors’ beet greens (to the kingly tune of $2.00 for all of them.) If there had been kale and chard, I would’ve grabbed those, too. I came home, rinsed them, and popped them onto the waiting trays of my dehydrator. Eight hours later, they were crumbly dry. As I stuffed them into a zipper top bag, they shattered into a fine powder. Whoa. This was easier than I thought. I dreamt of mixing this into the ubiquitous spice blend for chili or sloppy joes, browned Italian sausage for pizza. I even dreamed a dream of tossing a tablespoon or two (which translates to an entire bunch of beet greens) into a smoothie!
Do I need a dehydrator to dry vegetables and fruits?
I’ll tell ya, I have a pretty fly dehydrator. I have this Excalibur 9-Tray Economy Dehydrator which is, admittedly, a bit of an investment. (This is also an Amazon.com affiliate link. If you purchase it soon after clicking, I receive a small commission which in no way effects the cost of the item. You may find it less expensively on eBay or through other sources, so do your research! It’s worth it!)
To be fair, I have heard you can dry foods effectively in the oven if your oven has a 200°F or below setting. The truth is that I’ve never done a significant amount of oven-drying. This seems to be a good guide if you opt for that method. There’s little to no financial outlay to begin with, since you use a stove you theoretically already have, but I will caution you that it takes much longer and requires far greater attention than does the dehydrator method. Where a dehydrator takes from four to six hours for a bunch of green, an oven can take up to sixteen hours for the same batch. Plus, and this is a biggie, THE LOWER THE TEMPERATURE AT WHICH YOU DRY THE VEGETABLES, THE MORE NUTRIENTS THEY RETAIN! That makes the dehydrator a clear winner for me.
How do I make dehydrated vegetables?
To summarize, you remove anything inedible (stems, pits, seeds, skins on certain vegetables, etc…), break them down to a uniform thickness (usually 1/2 to 1/4-inch or less), lay them on the dehydrator trays (or racks on top of baking sheets if using the oven method), and dry ’em. Finer details: If you’re going to drop the dehydrated product into dishes to rehydrate, you want to pay a little attention to making the pieces uniform in size and shape. If you’re pulverizing them as I usually do, it doesn’t much matter what it looks like when it’s done.
Are there vegetables or fruits I can’t dehydrate?
Not really, it just depends on how strong your sense of smell and stomach are. Broccoli, turnip greens, and onions smell RANK while you’re drying them. If you MUST dry them, I recommend putting the dehydrator in the garage, barn, or outside on the porch or patio. You probably don’t want to sniff that all night long. Greens in general smell pretty earthy, but beet greens and mustard greens don’t smell as strong. They are milder and not unpleasant.
What gives? Where’s the recipe?
Today, there’s no hard core recipe; we’re dealing more with a concept than anything else. Get thee to your local farmers’ market and grab fists-full of beet greens, Swiss chard, kale, or spinach. Dry ’em. Crush ’em! Add ’em to everything! I advise you start with small additions to foods like soups, stews, gravies, etc… If it’s a wet food, it’ll accommodate the dried vegetables better. Just keep in mind that the vegetables that took longer to dry will, in all likelihood, take longer to rehydrate. If you’re adding them in powdered form, that is less of a concern. Let me recap the basic rules for adding dehydrated vegetables to food.
How to Add Nutrition to Dishes with Dehydrated Vegetables.
- Buy, grow, or otherwise procure super fresh produce to dry. Farmers’ markets are good resources.
- Wash the vegetables, break them down into evenly sized and evenly thick pieces (1/4-inch thickness or thinner) for more even drying. If you wouldn’t eat the peel of something when you eat it raw or cooked, please remember to remove the peel before drying.
- Use a good dehydrator or your oven to dehydrate the vegetables until they are dry clear through. Pull a piece out and let it cool to room temperature. If you can snap it in two, it is dry enough to powder.
- Allow the vegetables to cool completely before packing into a zipper top bag or sterilized jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark place that is free of temperature fluctuations.
- Use a clean coffee grinder or blender to pulverize dried vegetables to add to slow cooker meals, soups, stews, and broths. You can even add dried vegetable powders to breads, muffins, and biscuits to help add nutritional value. Is anyone else thinking sweet potato biscuits with sausage gravy sound delicious?
- The harder and firmer the vegetable is when dried (sweet corn is a perfect example) the more finely you’ll want to grind it before adding to food.
Things to Remember When Using Powdered Dehydrated Vegetables.
- Unless you have pulverized the vegetable a to micro-fine powder, these will not rehydrate instantly and may be gritty. Be sure to add them at least 10 minutes prior to the dish being done so they can ‘bloom’. The exception to this is dried greens like spinach, beet greens, kale, chard, and mustard greens. You can simply crumble the leaves finely into the soup before removing from the heat. If you use the stems, you may want to add those at the 10 minute mark or pulverize before adding.
- If you are baking with the powdered vegetables, whisk a tablespoon or so in with the dry flour before combining with the wet ingredients.
- The dried vegetables retain more nutrients when powdered immediately before using rather than powdering them ahead of time. This is much the same as the way ground dried herbs and spices lose their oomph when not used quickly.
- Remember how big the vegetables were before drying when you decide how much to add. You wouldn’t add a cup of dried parsley flakes to your soup, would you? Dehydrating vegetables concentrates their flavour. Start with smaller amounts and play with how they taste.
- When finely powdered, some dried vegetables have a tendency to clump when you add them to wet ingredients, so whisk or stir into water, broth, or milk before adding to the whole pot of soup or stew
- Many dried vegetable powders have thickening power. Dried potatoes, particularly, can thicken a soup or sauce a great deal when added. Dried corn powder also has immense thickening power when added (think corn meal!)
To what dishes can I add my dehydrated vegetable powders?
- Add spinach, tomato, or beet powder to bread for added colour. Unless you add a TON, it doesn’t really add flavour.
- Add sweet potato powder to flour when making buttermilk biscuits.
- Add crumbled greens or zucchini powder to black bean soup, taco soup, or chicken noodle soup.
- Add powdered corn to your spice blend for chili.
- Add a blend of vegetable powders with herbs and spices to a container of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream and let rest in the refrigerator for an hour for a tasty vegetable dip!
- Add powdered green and red bell peppers to Slow-Cooker Red Beans and Rice to sneak that flavour in without the bell pepper texture for picky eaters.
- Add almost any kind of powdered vegetables to your pasta sauce. Spinach is particularly good!
- Add a tablespoon or two of dried greens, carrot, or beet powder to your smoothies. It adds colour AND nutrients!
Do you sneak vegetables into dishes or are you feeding only non-picky eaters? Do you dehydrate any summer produce?