It's hard to imagine anyone listing cauliflower as her favorite food, especially anyone who's not yet old enough to drive. Getting a child to eat broccoli's less vibrant cousin is a struggle, but baking the vegetable is your best shot at incorporating it into your kiddo's diet. Once the cauliflower is crunchy, a little bit nutty and toasty brown, your little one might forget she's eating something that some might say resembles brains.
Prevent your toddler or preschooler from making that wrinkled-nose, pursed-lip expression by taking care to prep the cauliflower well. Use fresh cauliflower, or if your only option is frozen, pick a bag that contains nothing but flash-frozen cauliflower florets. If you're starting from raw, rinse the entire cauliflower thoroughly, then use a sharp knife -- while any little ones are far out of reach -- to chop off the thick stem and any leaves. Work your knife magic until you've removed all the stem bits from the head of florets. Ask your child to wash her hands and gently separate the florets into a bowl. Demonstrate what you mean by "gentle," or you might end up with a bowl full of shredded cauliflower dust.
You could toss clean, raw cauliflower florets onto a veggie platter, where they'd be ignored in favor of pepper strips and carrots, or you can transform them into something your munchkin will eat. Before you bake the pieces, cut large florets into smaller chunks, then coat every piece with a thin layer of olive oil in order to create the crispy texture that everyone will love. Drizzle some oil over the veggies and use your hands to toss the cauliflower until it's evenly coated, then pour the pieces in a single layer on a baking pan. Sprinkle the pieces with salt and pepper and pop the sheet into an oven heated to about 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Set your kiddo up with an activity at the kitchen table so you can stay nearby. Flip the pieces with a spatula after five minutes; the cauliflower is ready to come out once it starts to brown, which should take 10 to 15 minutes total.
Cauliflower's greatest asset -- besides its high concentration of folate and vitamin C -- is that it's a chameleon. Once baked, it's slightly nutty, but doesn't have a strong flavor that should turn your kiddo off. For that reason, you can top it with any number of things and serve it as a side, but the one topping that will probably have the most appeal to your child is cheese. Sprinkle the dish with grated Parmesan, or make a cheddar cheese sauce to drizzle over the top. If your little one likes her side dishes creamy, try mixing in a little ricotta or cottage cheese, and pump up the crunch by sprinkling breadcrumbs mixed with melted butter over the dish. Pop the cauliflower under the broiler for a minute, until the breadcrumbs brown. Or make a low-calorie dish for an adventurous child by squeezing a halved lemon over the roasted cauliflower and mixing in some chopped fresh herbs.
Uses for Roasted Cauliflower
On its own, a dish of baked cauliflower is perfectly tasty to you, and should appeal to your hungry little child. Her whims are unpredictable, though, and she might insist the vegetable be a bit disguised before she'll eat it. No matter: once baked, cauliflower adds texture and bulk to plenty of dishes. Stir it into a bowl of pasta with tomato or alfredo sauce and other roasted veggies, or add it to cold pasta salad. Toss the cauliflower into the food processor and mix the resulting mash into potatoes, stir it into vegetable soup, sprinkle it on pizza underneath the shredded cheese or add it to a vegetable quiche. Once you've tried everything you can think of, dig through your favorite broccoli recipes and substitute cauliflower for the green stuff.