Now that spring has arrived, everything is turning green: from blades of grass and budding trees to your kids’ faces when you try to serve them a healthy side of vegetables with dinner. The good news is this season is the perfect time to up your vegetable game.
With super fresh picks like carrots, new potatoes, sugar snap peas, and asparagus (yes, asparagus!) returning to farmer’s markets and produce aisles, there’s one simple cooking technique that will make almost any vegetable taste better: roasting.
Why You Should Roast Your Veggies
Roasting, which simply means to cook your vegetables using high heat, is one of the easiest (and most ingenious) ways to achieve a naturally delicious flavor and texture kids will instantly adore. As opposed to mushy, bland steamed vegetables, roasted veggies come out of the oven tender and sweet on the inside and a bit crisp and caramelized (yum) on the outside.
Best of all, there’s one pan (i.e. minimal mess), no special ingredients, and no special recipe required. As far as “Mom’s-Gotta-Multi-Task” cooking goes, roasting vegetables is practically foolproof. In fact, if you accidentally “overcook” them a bit, the charred edges will probably be your favorite part.
This is all you need to do:
1. Choose Your Fresh Vegetables Wisely
The options here are endless. Start with vegetables your kids already like, maybe baby carrots, corn on the cob, green beans, or sweet potatoes. Then up the ante to asparagus spears, broccoli, any kind of squash (roasted butternut = kids’ fave), or rainbow cauliflower (fun!). Whatever you choose, the one important thing to remember is to cut your vegetables into similar size pieces so they cook evenly.
2. Prep Your Sheet Pan
Why use a flat old metal sheet pan instead of a more dignified casserole dish? Two reasons: One, vegetables have a lot of water in them, and when they cook that water evaporates. Because a casserole dish has high, curved sides, that evaporating water can have a steaming effect on vegetables that will make them more squishy (insert a pint-sized “eeewwww” here). Second, a sheet pan allows for the option of easier cleanup. No time for scrubbing at the sink? Just line your pan with aluminum foil, and a perfectly clean pan goes right back into the cupboard at the end of dinner.
3. Toss with Olive Oil and Seasonings
No need to add another bowl to the dishwasher. Place your clean, cut vegetables right onto the sheet pan and drizzle them with olive oil. Two or three teaspoons should do it, and no need to measure. Just add enough to get the vegetables looking a little glossy (not drenched) and toss with your hands to evenly coat. As for seasonings, all you really need is salt. For real. A few pinches of kosher salt evenly sprinkled over the top of your vegetables will go a long way to gently coax their perfectly natural sweet flavor right out of them as they roast.
4. Get Ready to Roast
Preheat your oven to 425° and spread your vegetables across the baking sheet in a single layer with a little space in between (so they have room to brown and crisp). Once in the oven, cooking times will depend on the type of vegetables you’re cooking and how small you cut your pieces. In general, thin or soft vegetables like asparagus, green beans, peppers, tomatoes or cauliflower will be ready in 10-20 minutes, while tougher vegetables like carrots, potatoes and squash will take more along the lines of 25 minutes or longer. Don’t worry about this too much – just give your vegetables a quick check and a stir every 10 minutes until they’re tender enough to pierce with a fork and toasty brown around the tips and edges. Another big clue will be the sweet smell of caramelization coming from your kitchen.
5. When All Else Fails: CHEESE
If your selective eaters are still a little skeptical, a light sprinkling of a favorite cheese can make vegetables a little less intimidating and a lot more eater-friendly. Try topping your cauliflower or broccoli with some shredded cheddar during the last few minutes of roasting. Or let little fingers sprinkle a snowfall of grated Parmesan over asparagus, green beans, zucchini, or spaghetti squash. Not making any promises, but this trick has even been known to work with Brussels sprouts.
Diane Bobis is a freelance food and lifestyle writer who is slightly obsessed with Sting, gummy bears, and the formidable length of her little boy's eyelashes.