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Introduce kids to variations on carrot soup, citrus smoothie, squash, cookies

Karen Le Billon has written a fact-filled and fun book to help children learn how to eat.

Along with games and tips, "Getting to Yum: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters" has recipes with names that kids will love such as Vicious Carrots, Green Machine Puree and Tasty Tajine.

To get kids familiar with a new vegetable, let them choose it at the store. Then have them participate in preparing it — a two-year-old can wash it, a five-year-old can help cut it and older child can help make soup.

"In the process they've already done a very important familiarization," says the Vancouver mother and professor. "The vegetable is less scary for them than if it arrives on the table sight unseen, something new. They follow the vegetable from produce shelf to plate and along the way they participate so they feel like they contributed. It makes them proud."

Depending on their age, have your children help make the following recipes — and they're more likely to eat the result.

Tasty Orange Trio

Carrots, dill and orange are often featured in adult soups and babies can learn to like the combination too. Once your baby is enjoying this puree, substitute other herbs and spices for the dill, such as fresh parsley or cilantro or ground cumin.

This puree can be made the day before; the flavours intensify overnight. For adults or older kids, try adding more water to make a soup and season with a little grated ginger or cumin, plus salt, to taste.

Preparation time: 13 minutes (5 minutes hands-on)

500 ml (2 cups) peeled and chopped carrots

125 ml (1/2 cup) orange juice

2 ml (1/2 tsp) dried dill

In a medium saucepan into which you have placed a steamer insert, bring 500 ml (2 cups) water to a boil over high heat. Add carrots to steamer, cover and steam until tender, about 8 minutes. If you don't have a steamer, simmer carrots in water over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Strain carrots, reserving cooking liquid.

In a food processor, combine cooked carrots, orange juice and dill and puree, slowly adding enough cooking liquid to reach desired consistency. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to puree carrots in pan.)

Makes 6 to 8 baby jars.


Tangy Citrus Smoothie

Smoothies, like soups, are a great way to introduce new flavours to your kids. The creamy, smooth texture makes them a natural hit with kids of all ages. They can be served for breakfast, snack and dessert.

You can mix and match ingredients with this recipe. Kids love experimenting and coming up with "their" smoothie recipe is a lot of fun and a great way to get them taste testing.

Smoothies concentrate flavours, making them more intense. For younger kids or those new to tangy tastes, this smoothie will probably need the flavoured yogurt as well as the avocado, which will reduce the acidity level and balance the sour taste, making it interesting rather than overly strong.

Serve it in mini, kid-size teacups, or tall thin juice glasses or cocktail glasses. This is a "tasting" recipe, so kids don't need a lot.

It should not be served to children under a year old (and test these ingredients, one by one, with your child first to watch for any allergic reactions).

Preparation time: 4 minutes

250 ml (1 cup) orange juice

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 15 ml/1 tbsp)

1 big or 2 small ripe bananas

125 ml (1/2 cup) plain yogurt (use flavoured if your kids are not yet citrus lovers)

One of the following: half a peeled grapefruit, 1 peeled kiwi or 250 ml (1 cup) diced pineapple

2 ice cubes

30 ml (2 tbsp) liquid honey

1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled (optional)

In a blender, combine orange juice, lemon juice, banana, yogurt, choice of fruit, ice cubes, honey and avocado, if using, and blend until smooth and frothy.

Makes enough for 2 adults and 2 children (small "tasting" servings).


Squish Squash

This puree makes a delicious adult side dish too and the recipe's funny name might persuade reluctant eaters to try a bite or two.

This recipe can be made in half the time by boiling rather than baking the squash and pears. Simply cook the peeled, cubed butternut squash in boiling water until tender. Add the pears in the last few minutes of cooking or they'll dissolve into the water.

Preparation time: 55 minutes (10 minutes hands-on)

1 large butternut squash

15 ml (1 tbsp) salted butter or vegetable oil

2 ripe pears or apples, peeled, cored and quartered

Pinch sea salt (optional)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Zest of 1/2 orange (optional)

Heat oven to 200 C (400 F).

Halve squash lengthwise and remove seeds and stringy pulp. Rub insides with butter. Place squash, cut side down, in a baking dish with 50 ml (1/4 cup) water. Bake for 30 minutes, then add pears. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until squash is tender when pricked with a fork.

Set aside to cool slightly, at least 3 to 5 minutes. Using a spoon, scoop out flesh from cooked squash and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add cooked pears and puree until smooth. For younger babies, add enough water to reach desired consistency. For older children and adults, add salt, cinnamon and orange zest, if desired.

Makes 500 to 750 ml (2 to 3 cups) or 4 to 6 baby jars (depending how big your squash is).


No-Bake Choco-Raisin Treats (Mendiants)

These fun chocolate treats taste decadent but are relatively low in sugar. They're so dense that you don't need very much to feel satisfied, Le Billon says.

A mendiant (the traditional French word for this dessert) is a chocolate disk studded with nuts and dried fruits: raisins, hazelnuts, figs and almonds. Traditionally eaten at Christmas, they're now eaten year-round, and endless varieties can be found that incorporate everything from seeds to fruit peel. Le Billon has suggested blueberries and almonds, but start with toppings your children already love, then introduce new flavours. Toppings can include nuts (almonds, pistachios, praline, pecans), dried fruit (raisins, blueberries, thinly sliced apricots, cranberries, crystallized ginger or orange rind), or even fleur de sel, seeds or chunks of your favourite cookies.

The goal is to have your children enjoying making food and being in the kitchen, so try to make these together.

Preparation time: 60 minutes (30 minutes hands-on)

15 ml (1 tbsp) unsalted butter

250 g (8 oz) dark or milk chocolate, chopped

5 ml (1 tsp) ground cinnamon

15 ml (1 tbsp) whipping (35 per cent) cream (if you are using dark chocolate)

125 ml (1/2 cup) slivered or sliced almonds

125 ml (1/2 cup) dried blueberries

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add chocolate and stir constantly until completely melted. Add cinnamon (and cream if using dark chocolate).

Assembly: You can do this using either silicone muffin cups (Le Billon's preference) or parchment paper. If using muffin cups, drop about 15 ml (1 heaping tbsp) melted chocolate mixture into bottom of three or four muffin cups at a time. If using parchment paper, lay parchment on a flat work surface and drop small spoonfuls of chocolate on sheet, three or four at a time, using the back of the spoon to make little circles about 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter. Before chocolate hardens, add almonds and blueberries in any design you like.

If the chocolate mixture hardens before you have finished, simply remelt it.

Set cookies aside to harden, testing edges cautiously until you are sure they are ready, at least 30 minutes.

Makes about 8 large cookies (30 g/1 oz each) or 16 smaller cookies (15 g/1/2 oz each).

Source: "Getting to Yum: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters" by Karen Le Billon (HarperCollins Canada, 2014).

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