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Asparagus: Heavenly Spears

Nurturing a child's healthy attitude towards eating right is as important as developing a nutritionally balanced diet plan. And in most cases, the key word here is "plan". Planning the right essentials - the likes of veggie-must-have andplain-grains - at the right time, and for the right occasion is a lesson in instinctive discretion that parents will  learn to treasure.

In short, some vegetables are just more nutritious, taste and yes,, more fun! Picture think- sliced carrot florets, or a party porcupine made out of mash and baby sweet corns. And what about a colorful bouquet of sweet toasted spud sticks and crunchy cucumber 'hairs'? Okay, with a little imagination, most foods can look as good as it should.

Still, some vegetables are just born luck: For children age two to 9?, a neat bundle of asparagus (preferably wrapped in sliced of bacon) toasted and served wiith a generous dollop homemade sour cream, cream cheese or red pepper sauce, is always a welcome sight.

Spears Almighty

In fact, since the earliest of times, wild asparagus were harvested for their famed medicinal properties (credited with everything from curing toothaches to being a potent aphrodisiac). White asparagus, which is grown underground to prevent chlorophyll from developing and turning it green, has thicker, smoother spears. It is harder to find, but certainly worth the effort. A less frequently seen variety is purple asparagus, called viola, which turns green during cooking.

The standard variety is almost all year round. A consummate lover's fancy, asparagus are an excellent source of folic acid, a vitamin B that is associated with a decreased risk of neural tube birth defects. They are also are low in calories and even lower in sodium, are an important source of potassium alongside many other micronutrients, and are a significant source of vitamin C.

Preliminary studies have shown that young children with asthma experience significantly less wheezing when put on a diet of foods rich in vitamin C. Asparagus offer carotenoids - part of which are converted into vitamin A with the rest acting as strong antioxidants, and dietary fibre - diets high in insoluble fibre (found in some vegetables) are associated with protection against hear disease in both men and women.

Nutritionally Sharp

As more is being studies about the wonderful nutritional highlights of some of these often under-appreciated varieties of foods, the more we learn how to best indulge in them. Take the example what a just a few stalks of asparagus can do. Just thee stalks give you 11 per cent calories, 1.1g protein, 2.2g carbohydrate, a total fat content of just 0.09g, 1g fibre, 6.3g vitamin C and 61mcg of folate. And according to the American National Cancer Institute, asparagus tested with the highest content of glutathione, one of the body's most potent cancer fighters.

Clearly, this is one vegetable that covers the needs of the entire family, regardless of age. Long revered in European cuisine, this gem of a vegetable, related to the lily family, has a slender green stalk with a distinctive but somewhat elusive flavor, as well as a mildly astringent undertone.

Like most vegetables, quick cooking methods best preserved the nutritional properties and flavor of the asparagus, which translates to less work for parents. They make excellent healthy finger foods, side dishes and snacks. Boiled, grilled, steamed or baked, serve them with wholesome corn chips and a generous helping of your kids' favorite cheese melts and fresh yoghurt.

Asparagus Tips

  • Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips.
  • Freshen slightly wilted tips by soaking the in cold water.
  • Keep fresh asparagus moist until you are ready to use it.
  • Break or cut asparagus spears at the tender part and use the trimmed ends that you might otherwise discard for use to make puree and soups.

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