Whipping up ideas to get kids to eat sweet potatoes

October 24, 2001|By Rob Kasper

AS SOON AS the air turned cool and the leaves started to scatter, I began sweet-potato scheming. It is a behavioral pattern I lapse into every autumn. I start dreaming up ways to get my kids to eat sweet potatoes.

As happens with many parental missions, I have been working at this one for so long that I have pretty much forgotten why I got started. I know that sweet potatoes pack a lot of nutritional wallop.

They are so loaded with vitamins A, C, E, folate, iron, copper, calcium and fiber that they have developed a reputation as the healthiest vegetable on the planet.

But the truth is, nutrition does not stir my soul. All that talk about exceeding the recommended daily allowance of essential nutrients leaves me cold. Moreover, if I bought into the "Eat this, it is good for you" line of thinking, it could be turned against me. Before I could holler, "Hit me with some more whipped cream," a stern dietitian in a crisp white uni- form would be shoving a plate of steamed brussels sprouts (gack!) at me saying, "Eat this - it is good for you."

In short, if I based my case for eating sweet potatoes on their nutritional profile, I would be a hypocrite. That hypocrisy thing is a bummer. I have been there. You say one thing, then do another, and your kids nail you. Who knew they were even paying attention?

Also, I have tried appealing to a sense of digestive tradition. That pitch goes something like this: "We are sweet-potato people. Eating orange food is what we do." This plea has fallen on deaf ears.

Mostly my efforts to bring my offspring into the fold of sweet-potato eaters have consisted of whipping up dishes they might like. Over the years, I have tried the sweeten-it-up route, coating sweet potatoes with brown sugar and maple syrup. I have tried the fooling-them-with-french-fries ruse, cutting sweet potatoes into french fries and cooking them in oil.

These ploys have failed.

The kid who is away at college would at least sample the sweet-potato dishes. The 16-year-old who is at home now is very particular about what foods are even allowed on his dinner plate. So far, no orange food has been given landing rights.

The other day I cracked open a new cookbook, One Potato, Two Potato by Roy Finamore, and found another promising idea: mashing sweet potatoes and mixing them with bits of apple.

Another year, another sweet-potato scheme. Hope, like an old potato, sprouts eternal.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Dried Apples

Serves 4

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed

2/3 cup chopped, dried apples

1/2 cup apple cider

4 tablespoons softened, unsalted butter

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

pinch of cayenne pepper

coarse salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prick the potato skins in several places. Plop the whole potatoes on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, or baking sheet. Bake until tender. Cooking times will vary according to the size of the potatoes. Most take 20 to 30 minutes. A good way to test for doneness is to probe the potatoes with a skewer.

Meanwhile, put the apples and cider in a small saucepan. Simmer over low heat until most of the liquid has been absorbed, so the pan is almost dry, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Peel the sweet potatoes, holding them in a towel to protect your hands from the heat. Drop them into a pot or large bowl. Smash the flesh with a heavy wire whisk, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter. Stir in the apples and lemon juice. Season with cayenne and salt. Serve warm.- Adapted from "One Potato, Two Potato" by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens (Houghton Mifflin, 2001, $35)

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