There are two things I’ve learned from having a picky eater in my household. One, the preference (or dislike) for certain types of foods must have originated from someone, and two, every meal poses the challenge of devising potential solutions to the problem.
As a child, I was a notoriously picky eater, too. My mom recalls a period after I began eating solids where the only thing I ate was a bowl of white jasmine rice sprinkled with sugar and soy sauce. Yes, that combination tastes great, but is not recommended for growing bodies or healthy teeth. While my mom recalls that period fondly now, I’m certain that she and my dad must’ve felt an exasperation beyond what they could have imagined.
Unsurprisingly, my five-year-old son has inherited this trait. Like my parents, I’ve gone down the path of trying to convince him to eat anything that’s not fried or crunchy. Unlike my parents, I have the internet, where I’ve found articles, books, and blog posts, some by experts in child nutrition, that extoll certain methods to get your child to eat vegetables.
But what these “experts” don’t realize is that my son knows what a vegetable is. Whether it’s displayed proudly on a plate or hidden amongst other foods, he knows to pick it out and eat only the other parts of the dish, or he’ll flatly refuse to eat the meal altogether. My husband and I have implemented a variety of ways to get my son to eat vegetables: baking and sprinkling them with parmesan cheese, blending them into something else, or hiding them in pastas, but none of it works. That is, until we introduced kabocha squash soup.
Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is one of the many varieties of squash that’s available year-round at my local Asian supermarket. Its dark green exterior and hard shell can give people pause, for it takes a little bit of effort to peel, cut, and slice the squash into small cubes to put into a soup. But that’s exactly what we did one evening last year, the evening that we now fondly remember as “the night everything changed.”
The week prior, my husband and I were at my mom’s apartment when she served us a very simple soup. We were surprised by how good it tasted, so we asked her for the recipe. But Asian mothers are known to be vague about recipes. She replied that she simply cut up the squash into cubes, brought a few cups of water to a boil, added a soup base, then added the squash, watched it simmer slowly on the stove, and the rest is history. “Takes about thirty minutes,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it was that simple, but it was. The following week, my husband adapted the recipe based on my mom’s sparse instructions and added bits of bok choy and sliced green onions to the soup. He served it to our kids, and we both watched in awe as my daughter and son slurped the soup, declared it “yummy,” and asked for more. Since then, this has been our go-to soup whenever we want to feed our kids a healthy side dish of vegetables. Best of all, it tastes even better the next day.
Kabocha Squash Soup
Adapted from my mom, Ly
- Half a kabocha squash, seeded, skinned, and cut into 1" cubes
- 5 cups water
- 1 Tbsp. bouillon powder / soup powder (I use the Totole Chicken Lady brand)
- 1 Tbsp. salted butter
- Green onions, chopped and white parts separated (optional)
- Bok choy, chopped (optional)
Bring the water to a slow boil. Stir in bouillon powder. Add the kabocha, butter, and white parts of the green onion. Continue cooking at a low boil for about 15 minutes.
Scoop out a few cups of squash with a large spoon. Drain the liquid from the spoon, squish those bits of melon with a smaller spoon until you have a paste. Mix it back into the soup. This method ensures that you get all the flavor of the squash.
Test the squash for your desired consistency, turn off the heat, and add the bok choy. Put a lid on the pot and let it sit covered for about 10 minutes before serving.