I just had a conversation with Keith about kids and veggies (it started off being about the McDonald's obesity lawsuit, but morphed as conversations are wont to do). Keith was saying that it's hard to make kids eat vegetables because "Kids just don't like vegetables. It's genetic." In a possible CLM, I kinda told him that it was because his vegetables weren't cooked right.
Well, we're both right, really. There are certain vegetables that most kids will object to, and this is because they are bitter. And Keith is correct that this is a genetically-based behaviour that evolved to protect children from the potent chemicals in vegetation which are largely beneficial for adults but which can harm the growing systems that children have. These chemicals are generally bitter (or taste that way to us), and kids naturally prefer not to eat them.
Modern vegetables, however, have been hybridized and mucked around with so they are orders of magnitude less bitter than the wild predecessors we evolved to eat, but since kids' taste buds are super-sensitive (and the jury is out on whether this is entirely natural or encouraged by parents who, desperate to get their kids to eat *anything*, allow them to eat only what tastes good and therefore do not develop their tastebuds "naturally"), kids still tend to avoid them. The main culprits are the leafy greens (lettuce and raw greens, chard, kale, bok choy, many chinese vegetables) and the brassicae (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage). Most kids have little or no objection to ripe bell peppers, carrots, peas, beets, and other sweeter vegetables.
While I think that kids should be encouraged to develop more of a taste for things other than sweet, it IS natural for them to dislike bitter foods. I don't see much harm in skewing a child's vegetable intake on the side of more sweet veg, less bitter as long as parents realize that sweet vegetables tend to be more energy-dense and kids don't need as much of them. But I also don't see any harm in making bitter vegetables more palatable.
For some reason, most people have one method of cooking most vegetables: steam the suckers. Why? Because we've been told it's the healthiest. Which it might well be, but let's balance the healthiness of eating a slightly-less-healthily-prepared vegetable with not eating one at all because it tastes gross. Hmm, which is better?
Blanching is my favourite method of preparing vegetables (although I will steam occasionally, if the veggies are nice and fresh and tender) because it provides a method for quick cooking (which preserves nutrients) AND a way to decrease the bitterness and increase overall flavour. In the winter, when we're stuck with crappy, sad looking supermarket veggies, that's a huge bonus. What is this magical taste-improving elixir, you ask? It's simple: salt and sugar.
Oh, horrors! you gasp. Why would you add such patently unhealthy things to pure, perfect, nutritious vegetables???? Well, for one thing, they're hardly nutritious unless you eat them, and you're way more likely to eat them if they taste good. Secondly, we're talking extremely small amounts here - in a couple litres of water, I'll typically put 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 - 1 tsp sugar, depending on the vegetable (more sugar for more bitterness). That's less sugar than an apple contains, and about a billion times less salt than anything that comes out of a can or a package, guaranteed. But the difference is really amazing. Will kids suddenly start eating the vegetables prepared this way? Probably not - much of taste is expectation, and if they expect it to taste yucky they probably will insist that it's still yucky even when it's not. But if they see their parents enjoying them more, that will probably, over time, make a difference.
Other tricks to do with vegetables include tossing a small amount of butter (like a teaspoon) with some fresh herbs (basil goes spectacularly well with carrots, mint with peas, savoury with just about anything, etc.) or, for greenery, a touch of good balsamic vinegar. (or reduced not-so-good balsamic.) If you're going asian-style, a bit of mirin and sesame oil tossed with the cooked vegetables is great.
It does not take a lot of effort to make vegetables taste better. I just do not understand why people persist in steaming them. I can't see that it's any easier, plus you've got extra steamer inserts/machinery to clean afterwards. Blanching just takes a pot. One pot. Maybe an extra minute to bring it to the boil. If I ever find the person who started this "steam your vegetables" craze, I'm going to give him/her a good talking-to. But I suspect that he/she is no longer with us, probably because he/she didn't eat his/her vegetables and expired from a heart attack some time ago.