Sometimes it can take an outlaw to encourage your kids to try something wholesome. Consider, for example, the case of quinoa, a healthy whole grain with a fugitive’s past.
Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wa,” is an ancient seed grain that’s easy to prepare, highly versatile, and healthful. It boasts a nutty flavor, slightly crunchy texture, and a powerful nutritional punch. It’s a complete protein, contains all essential amino acids, and is also a rich source of fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, and more.
Children who are reluctant to try new foods, however, aren’t likely to be swayed by quinoa’s health benefits. That’s why it’s also fun to consider quinoa’s past. Cultivated for thousands of years by the Incas, the ancient grain was considered sacred and a source of warrior strength. When Spanish conquerors arrived around 1500 AD, they destroyed the quinoa crops, outlawing its cultivation.
The "super plant" persevered in extreme conditions and today is making a comeback in homes around the world.
Its satisfying texture (even offering a fun “pop” as kids chew) and mild flavor not only make the grain incredibly versatile, but also kid-friendly.
Whip up a batch at the start of the week for a variety of healthful meals, even dessert!
Unless your quinoa comes pre-rinsed, you’ll need to rinse quinoa in a sieve or large bowl until the water runs clear to eliminate its bitter saponin coating. Once rinsed, you can sauté quinoa to bring out its nutty flavor or cook it as you would rice using two parts water to one part quinoa for 15 to 18 minutes, until all the water is absorbed.
Here are some easy ways to showcase this super food:
Breakfast: Mix cooked quinoa with milk, maple syrup, dried fruit, and nuts for a healthy, satisfying porridge.
Lunch: Toss with roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, oil, and balsamic vinegar for a salad that’s both filling and protein-packed.
Dessert: Make a pudding; top with dried fruit and sliced almonds.
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup green lentils, rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
11/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 large carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon garam masala spice blend
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup raisins or currants
1. Combine the quinoa and lentils in a large saucepan with the chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer about 20 minutes, until all the broth is absorbed, the lentils are al dente, and the quinoa is cooked.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté until the garlic is just golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, peas, and spices and sauté until heated through, a couple minutes more. Add the almonds and season with salt and pepper.
3. Discard the bay leaves. Combine the mixture and the vegetables. Stir in the raisins.
Recipe courtesy of The Cleaner Plate Club, by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin, Storey Publishing.
Ali Benjamin is co-author of The Cleaner Plate Club: More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love (co-authored with Beth Bader), based on her blog. Once a devotee of microwave dinners and diet soda, Ali became interested in farm-fresh food after her first child was born. After several failed meals—and a few too many times seeing her wee daughter hurl a spoon across the room—Ali got serious and taught herself to cook. Today, she is proud to know her parsnips from her purslane, and she can roast Brussels sprouts like a champ. She lives with her husband, two high-energy daughters, and a naughty basset hound mix named Buddy in Williamstown, Massachusetts.