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Fresh start: Put vegetables front and centre in family-friendly recipes for a new school year

Our cookbook of the week is Little Green Kitchen by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, creators of the Green Kitchen Stories blog. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Spinach and cottage cheese waffles, carrot and ginger patties with creamy potatoes, and potato, pea and spinach tortilla.

Like a more nutritionally sound Nutella, David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s chocolate chickpea spread begs to be slathered on bread, waffles or pancakes. Instead of sugar and palm oil taking top billing in its ingredient listing, as is the case with the famous hazelnut confection, incorruptible chickpeas and dates form its foundation.

Creamy, nutty and ultra-chocolatey nonetheless, it makes an ideal poster child for their fifth cookbook, Little Green Kitchen (Hardie Grant Books, 2019). Striking a family-friendly equilibrium, it appeals to kids and adults in equal measure. Whipped up in just 10 minutes, it’s achievable any night of the week. And although straightforward, it’s clever enough to ensure amateur cooks probably haven’t already arrived at it of their own volition.

Little Green Kitchen

In their fifth cookbook, Little Green Kitchen, David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl share vegetable-focused family food.

Hardie Grant Books

“Writing this book was probably the hardest book for us to write,” says Frenkiel. “Because of finding that balance: Making something that’s approachable but yet a bit more inspiring than what parents might already do or know; and writing recipes that parents and kids want to make.”

Since founding Green Kitchen Stories a decade ago, the Stockholm, Sweden-based couple’s family has grown. When they launched their award-winning vegetarian food blog, Vindahl was pregnant with their first child, Elsa. They now have three children under 10, including Isac, four, and Noah, two. Little Green Kitchen holds all of the wisdom they’ve gained while feeding their young family. And even though their kids’ preferences have influenced their cooking — namely more cheese (especially halloumi, a family favourite), more comfort food, and more portable, handheld meals — their food philosophy has remained the same.

Frenkiel, a graphic designer and photographer, has been a vegetarian for more than 20 years. Vindahl, a nutritional therapist, eats primarily vegetarian food and they take the same tact with their children: “They eat what we eat.” Overwhelmingly, Frenkiel says, the most common question their readers ask is how to make eating vegetables more enticing to kids. Little Green Kitchen is the long answer to this question, in the form of 70-plus inventive recipes (all of which are accompanied by at least one of his photographs) and plenty of tried-and-true advice.

“We wanted to focus on vegetables. We didn’t want it to be a vegetarian family cookbook. We wanted it to be a cookbook for every parent that wants their kids to eat more vegetables,” laughs Frenkiel. “That’s basically every parent, I guess.”

Spinach and cottage cheese waffles

Spinach and cottage cheese waffles from Little Green Kitchen.

David Frenkiel

Frenkiel and Vindahl decided early on that they wouldn’t make separate meals for their children. But they did, in a natural evolution, end up devising ways to modify single meals to suit the needs of the whole family. As such, many recipes feature an “adult upgrade” — minor changes that serve to add complexity or amp up the flavour for more mature palates — and “a helping hand” — tasks that kids can help out with to give them a sense of ownership and involvement in the meal.

“You can’t just put a plate in front of (kids). It can be quite tricky. Getting them interested in food, generally, and in the kitchen and talking about food, and letting them try the food — doing all those small tricks definitely helps when it comes to eating. I think that’s something many people don’t even consider, just letting them try the food while you cook it and helping them formulate some kind of feedback,” says Frenkiel.

“Otherwise, the most common thing that you hear is, ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I hate this.’ And by helping them — ‘Well, we can use other words to describe what we’re feeling here. Why don’t you like it?’ or ‘Is there something we can do? Should we add some cheese grated on top? Do you like when we have a bit of lemon?’ — you can teach them a bit about food, but also kind of trick them into becoming invested in the dinner.”

Boosting dishes with extra vegetables has become Frenkiel and Vindahl’s specialty. Creative uses of produce is a thread running through all of the recipes, which range from everyday meals to party food and lunchbox favourites to baking and sweets. While in some — such as black bean brownie bites or energy bean bars — the plant-based components might be less evident, in most cases, far from attempting to hide secret vegetables in dishes, the produce is front and centre.

We didn’t want it to be a vegetarian family cookbook. We wanted it to be a cookbook for every parent that wants their kids to eat more vegetables.

David Frenkiel

Frenkiel explains that introducing vegetables early is key, and it’s even more effective if you can find ways to incorporate them into dishes children already like. For example, spinach-laced, viridescent waffles and rainbow pancakes — red from beets, orange from carrots, and green from spinach and fresh herbs (basil, mint or parsley) — pack vegetables into formats kids recognize. In spite of the fact that their plant-spiked colour immediately sets them apart from paler, more prevalent versions, if they’re accustomed to eating whole grains and vegetables, they’ll think nothing of it. But if not, it may take some getting used to.

Having conversations with kids about different vegetables — what they are, where they come from, their various forms and uses, and the ways in which they’re good for us — is key to cultivating an openness to trying different foods, Frenkiel emphasizes. As is modelling a good relationship with healthful food, even if they don’t immediately partake.

“That’s been one of the biggest things that I think about (when it comes to) cooking for children. It feels like you just do it for the evening; you just need to feed them, but it’s not only about that. It’s also about raising them. If I asked my kids today what they want for dinner, they would probably say ice cream. And if I ask them what clothes they would like to wear that would be t-shirt and shorts, even in the winter. We can’t let kids dictate everything, and that’s the same with food. We have to be the parent and see the long game,” says Frenkiel.

“Even if they say they won’t eat it, they’ll still learn just by having that roasted broccoli or those chickpeas on the table. They’ll learn that that’s what dinner looks like. And as they grow up … that will come back to them: ‘This is how you eat dinner because that’s how we ate when I was a kid.’ I think it helps keeping that in mind. That even though I made a whole two-hour dinner and they ate two spoons of it, I still did a good job because I showed them what a proper dinner looks like.”

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