Noodling in the Kitchen

Zucchini Noodles with Picholine Olives, Lime and Onion


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

I recently purchased a new kitchen toy, and as I “spiralized” zucchini and yellow summer squash into noodles, I thought about the importance of engaging children in food preparation and having fun in the kitchen.  If a novel cutting tool can bring a little excitement to vegetables and help people eat more, I’m a promoter.


Should parents have to hide vegetables to get kids to eat them?

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Children don’t learn to enjoy vegetables when you bury them in a spaghetti sauce or brownie as suggested on the box of a “veggie stir-in” product a friend shared with me -“100% spinach puree,” a “veggie stir in.”

There are benefits to adding blended vegetables to boost nutrient density and decrease caloric density of recipes. An example is the popular idea of mixing cauliflower or butternut squash puree into mac ‘n cheese.  But hidden vegetables won’t likely influence kids to accept them on their own and eat more.

Eating more produce is associated with healthier body weights and reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type II diabetes, and some cancers (Reference 1).  Children and adults don’t come close to meeting recommended intakes for vegetables and fruits.  Less than 10% of children and teens meet recommendations for fruits and veggie intake which ranges from 9 to 13 servings daily, depending on age, gender and activity level. (Reference 2, 3).


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Engaging kids in the growing, selection and preparation of food pays off.  Playing with food can help picky kids warm up to new tastes and textures and may be particularly helpful for extremely neophobic or sensory sensitive children  (Reference 4).

Research shows that produce intake declines as children grow, decreasing by at least one serving through adolescence (Reference 3).  Fruits and vegetables compete with a number of other tantalizing foods for kids appetites.

A study with over 1,000 five- to 10-year olds in an after-school setting showed that when fruit was offered as a choice along with a sugar-sweetened snack like cookies and a salty snack like cheese-nacho tortilla chips, the students choose fruit less often (Reference  5). In this study, sliced fruit was consistently chosen more often than whole fruit suggesting that the form of the food, at least in this age group, makes a difference.

Take-away ideas for serving produce at home are to offer children a choice between two fruits or vegetables and serve them in an easy- or fun-to-eat form.  Keep a positive attitude.  If a food is rejected, follow up with something like, “OK, you don’t want to eat that today…” so the door is left open to try it again another time.  Pressuring kids to eat has been associated with lower preferences and consumption of fruits and vegetables (Reference 6).

I will eventually have to find cupboard space for my “spiralizer” but for now it’s on my counter as I brainstorm more ideas to try… steamed squash “noodles” to substitute for rice noodles in Thai recipes… angel-hair cut carrots and jicama for a marinated vegetable salad….

Remember to supervise children carefully when this or any cutting tool with sharp blades is in use.   Give them age-appropriate tasks and have fun.


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Zucchini Noodles with Picholine Olives, Lime and Onion


This recipe requires a spiralizer – vegetable noodle making tool. My machine has 4 blades and I used the coarse (medium-cut) blade for this recipe.  For best results, cut and salt the noodles 1 to 4 hours ahead of cooking to rid them of excess liquid.   

1 1/2 pounds medium zucchini and / or yellow squash

1 heaping teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed

Finely grated zest of a medium lime

1/2 cup chopped, pitted Picholine or other olives

Fresh basil leaves, julienne sliced (optional)


  1. Trim ends from squash. “Spiralize” noodles with the coarse or medium-size cutting blade. Place noodles in a colander and toss with salt. Place colander over a bowl to catch liquid; chill for 1 to 4 hours.


  1. When ready to cook, use the back of a spoon to gently press squash noodles to remove excess liquid. Spread noodles in a clean kitchen towel, roll up and squeeze to remove more liquid.


  1. Swirl oil in large deep skillet and place over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, rosemary and red pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, till onion begins to soften.  Stir in garlic.  Add zucchini.  Cook, stirring often, till zucchini is lightly cooked.  Stir in lime zest and olives. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.  Sprinkle with basil.  Serve warm.  Makes about 6 servings.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Report, Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States, 2013

Weekly  July 10, 2015 / 64(26);709-713


  1. Increasing Child Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Findings from the US Department of Agriculture Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Lauren e. W Olsho, PhD;Jacob Alex Klerman, MA; Lorrene Ritchie, PhD; Patricia Wakimoto, DrPH, RD; Karen L. Webb, PhD, MPH, Susan Bartlett, PhD, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, August, 2015, 1283-1290.


  1. Use of Salad Bars in Schools in increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: Where’s the Evidence? , Marc, A Adams, PhD; Meg Bruening, PhD, RD; Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, PhD, RD. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, August, 2015, 1233-1236.


  1. What Picky Eating Might Mean for Children Later On, By Sumathi Reddy, The Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2015.


  1. Children Select Unhealthy Choices when Give a Choice among Snack Offerings. Michael W Beets, PhD, Med; Falon Tiley, MS; Rebecca Kyryliuk, MPH; Robert G Weaver, PhD; Justin B. Moore, PhD, Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, PhD, MS, RD. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. September 2014, 1440-1446.


  1. Predicting Successful Introduction of Novel Fruit to Preschool Children. Jacqueline Blissett, PhD; Carmel Bennet, MRes; Jessica Donohoe, MRes; Samantha Rogers MRes; Suzanne Higgs, PhD. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, December, 2012, 1959-1957.


© Lorelle Del Matto 2015

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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