It’s a tale as old as time. First, moms tell kids to eat their vegetables. Then, kids turn up their cute little noses at said vegetables. There are tears, reminders of starving children in remote corners of the world, bribes, refusals, pleas of don’t-you-want-to-grow-up-to-be-big-and-strong-like-Daddy, threats of a dinner-less bedtime…we all know the drill. But, I’m here to tell you it’s possible. Here’s how I got my kid to eat squash.
Not only squash but, what if I told you I got my kindergartner to eat a dish consisting of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and squash, of all things? And that he gobbled it up like candy?
And what if I told you it was all because of a rat? Yep, a rat is how I got my kid to eat squash!
A Meal Inspired by a Movie
My son could star in the extreme-stunt version of picky eating. To be honest, it’s not entirely his fault. I’m pretty sure the mom’s curse has come true in my family because I’m not exactly an adventurous eater myself. Case in point: I like peanut butter but not peanuts, I’m not a fan of mint, I absolutely hate pumpkin, and I refuse to eat anything that ever lived in or near the ocean (funny, that one, since I grew up in Florida). And so, my mother’s struggles to feed me have been visited upon me with my own child.
Another thing my kid and I have in common is a love of all things Disney, and one of our favorite movies is the Disney/Pixar classic Ratatouille, the tale of a little rat who becomes one of France’s most renowned chefs. In the course of taking over the culinary scene of Paris, Remy creates a veggie dish that is not only beautiful to look at but also won over the crusty critic who threatens to crush his career.
My boy, who was cheering for the Little Chef all the way, said, “can we try that?” And I went on a quest for “Ratatouille’s Ratatouille.”
Traditional ratatouille is a vegetable stew that I rather think is a mushy mess. This gorgeous version comes from a dish called confit byaldi, which uses the usual zucchini, squash, onions, garlic, and tomato sauce in a fun new way. My Google search turned up this easy recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which looked just perfect. I made some adjustments, like using a smooth tomato sauce instead of puree, adding sliced tomatoes, subbing garlic powder for garlic, and omitting the onion and red pepper. Don’t ask.
An important shortcut for me was my mandoline. Skinny slices of veggies curled up in a casserole wouldn’t be possible with my limited knife skills. This baby makes quick work of it and lessens the risk that I might lose an appendage or two. Also, while the Smitten Kitchen recipe suggests Italian eggplant, my Publix only had the regular, big fat ones. I cut the slices in half or quarters to make them fit. There were lots of leftover eggplant slices, so I drizzled some olive oil on them and roasted them in the oven, and hub and I enjoyed some eggplant chips with our dinner. Yummy!
My Little Helper
My little helper was so excited to arrange the vegetables in the casserole. I told him what each one was, and he determined the pattern we used. Tomato, zucchini, squash, eggplant. Then, tomato, zucchini, squash, eggplant. Next, tomato, zucchini, squash, eggplant. The whole process turned into a lesson in vegetable names, cooking, and math. He was proud of the final product and couldn’t wait to show his dad.
We added a flourish of mozzarella cheese at the end to amp up the flavor even more. It would be a fab side dish, but we love it as a main with rice and bread.
Et voila! My child gobbled up his creation, inspired by a favorite character and brought to life in a fun day of cooking with Mom.
And I have a little vermin chef to thank for how I got my kid to eat squash.
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
1 zucchini, sliced into thin “coins”
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced into thin “coins”
1 eggplant, sliced (halve or quarter the slices if they’re too large)
A drizzle of olive oil
1 (8 oz) can plain tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Salt/pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (optional)
Fire up the oven to 375 degrees F.
First, slice the vegetables crosswise into thin coins. If using a regular-sized eggplant, you may need to cut your slices in half or quarters to make them fit. Then, wet aside.
Next, spread tomato sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper over the sauce. Drizzle with olive oil.
Then, arrange your veggies on top of the tomato sauce in the dish, alternating each and fanning them as you go, circling around the entire dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Finally, season with a little more salt and pepper, cover with aluminum foil, and bake about 35-40 minutes until sauce is bubbly. Spread mozzarella on top and bake uncovered for 5-10 more minutes, until cheese is melted.
Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.