“My two boys aged 7 and 9 refuse to eat vegetables. They act as if I’m poisoning them when I serve up a carrot or a parsnip and mealtimes have become a battle. I’m tired of throwing away food and I’m worried they’re not getting a well-balanced diet. Please help before they get scurvy or I’m driven mad!” Julia Walshe, Chesham.
Winning over veg-phobic children is a battle we think is best fought using one of two well-known military tactics – camouflage or engagement!
Engagement is a higher-risk strategy but doesn’t involve deception and may result in kids actually changing their minds about veg being inedible, as in this chicken fajitas recipe.
All you have to do is lay all the ingredients out and then invite people to build their own fajita; with a good selection of fillings, one or two vegetables are bound to find their way inside.
We like to add an element of competition into the fajita creation to encourage maximum vegetable take-up – see who can create the most colourful filling or the largest roll without it falling apart.
Serves 4; 30 minutes preparation
Ingredients for the chicken:
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large or 3 small chicken breasts, cut into 2 cm thick strips
1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper cored, seeded and cut into thin strips
2 tbsp lemon juice & 1 tsp zest, plus some lemon pieces for serving
Ingredients for the refried beans:
2 tbsp olive oil plus a bit extra for the beans
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, washed, trimmed and sliced
2 tbsp orange juice
200g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp brown sugar
400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Ingredients to serve:
8 flour tortillas, warmed in the oven
4 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
Start by preparing the chicken. Put the herbs and spices, salt, cornflour, zest, water and 2 tbsp of the oil in a freezer bag, seal the top and shake well to mix.
Add the chicken and pepper, reseal, shake so that everything is well coated then place in the fridge while you make the refried beans.
Heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid over a high heat and add the red onion. When the onion starts to sizzle, turn down the heat, cover with a lid and leave to soften for about 7 minutes.
Add the carrots and celery, turn up the heat and cook until the vegetables start to turn lightly golden.
Add the orange juice, brown sugar and tin of tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
Cook until the carrots are soft, most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is thick. Taste, season and puree the sauce until smooth.
Heat another splash of olive oil in a pan and when hot add the beans and a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce until the beans are hot.
Mash the beans with potato masher or fork, gradually adding the remaining tomato sauce as you go.
Keep the beans warm on a low heat while you cook the chicken.
Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken, peppers and any sauce from the bag.
Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables and the chicken are cooked and staring to brown – about 6 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest.
Transfer the chicken and pepper to a warm serving dish.
Lay the chicken, beans, tortillas, spring onions, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and lemon wedges and invite everyone to create their own fajita with the fillings.
Want to try slipping those veggies past the fussy eater radar? Culinary camouflage involves distracting kids with flavours they love, and disguising the ones they don’t, as in our Root vegetable rosti with sausages.
If you have a kitchen nightmare you want our kitchen experts to help with email us at [email protected] with Kitchen Makeover in the subject line.