My preschooler Joseph loves music and singing. He is always game for interactive songs, such as B-I-N-G-O and Old MacDonald. In fact, if any song happens to pose a question of any kind, my son is quick to “holla back,” as it were.
At the beginning of a track on a disc we have about farm life, the vocalist asks, “What is your favorite vegetable?” Joseph didn’t miss a beat: “Fruit!” he exclaimed. Then she asked, “how about string beans?”, to which he replied, “I like jelly beans!”
Hmmm. It wasn’t so long ago that I introduced my little newborn to his first veggies, laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy nutrition. Have I strayed so far from my mission? Where and when did my son learn to like jelly beans more than string beans? Not to be defeated, there has been plenty of exploration of veggies at our house, which, as it turns out, can be lot of fun with an almost-four-year-old.
The word “zucchini” is, in itself, a mouthful of fun to say. Put “cinnamon” in front of it, and you’ve built quite a tongue-twister! My son very proudly baked these muffins, executing every step from hand-grating the fresh zucchini, to measuring the flour, vanilla and spices, to dotting each muffin top with a pecan. “I’m a chef!” he declared. Sure, why not?
3 cups fresh zucchini, grated
2/3 cups unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 cup organic brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch sea salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
12 whole pecans, or 1/3 cup pecan pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degree F. In a large bowl, mix together sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the grated zucchini and the melted butter. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture and blend. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add all dry ingredients to the zucchini mixture. Bonus antioxidants! If your kid will eat them, fold in 1 cup dried cranberries. (Note: Our goal was to foster a positive experience with a green vegetable. Forgoing convention, we dumped all ingredients into one giant bowl and mixed. The muffins were in no way negatively affected.)
Lightly coat your muffin pan with a little butter or canola oil spray. Using two spoons, equally distribute the muffin batter, filling the cups completely. Bake on the middle rack until muffins are golden, and the tops bounce back when gently pressed (about 25 minutes). Set on rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from the muffin pan and let cool another 10-12 minutes. Makes 12.
Food Fact! Pecans offer a variety of forms of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant. Just a handful of pecans each day may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. According to Nutrition Research (August 2006), the vitamin E in pecans “protect blood lipids from oxidation. Oxidation of lipids in the body—a process akin to rusting—is detrimental to health. When the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol becomes oxidized, it is more likely to build up and result in clogged arteries.” More than just a vitamin E dynamo, pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. A good source of fiber, pecans are also a high-quality source of protein that contain very few carbohydrates and no cholesterol.