May 4th, 2009
Michelle recently told me that she was stumped when her parents, who regularly cook potatoes, asked her why she never cooks them. I never cook them either! We talked about how Isaac and Atticus—at 2- and 3-years-old, respectively—hardly ever eat them. Isaac’s experiences have been limited to shepherd’s pie and a few holiday meals. And while he’s not one for french fries (don’t ask!), he seems to like white potatoes just fine. Atticus, too. Yet we rarely cook them. And neither of us could speak thoughtfully about why.
As it turns out, prepared healthily, white potatoes are really good for you. Who knew! (Maybe you?) I guess the prepared healthily part is what tripped us up. Truth be told, my favorite ways to eat potatoes are decidedly NOT healthy. French fries. Intensely buttery mashed. Baked and topped with lots of butter and sour cream. Bacon, too, when I’m feeling decadent. In fact, I’d never even thought about how I might prepare potatoes healthily before this post. You learn something new everyday.
So what’s the scoop on potatoes?
After all-pervasive corn, potatoes are the number one vegetable crop in the world. They are harvested somewhere every single month of the year so, while it may not be carbon-footprint friendly, potatoes are available almost everywhere all year long. They also tend to flourish—or at least survive—even when other crops fail. That’s made them a staple of many countries’ diets even through famine. No wonder they are global comfort food!
As a cheap and plentiful crop that can thrive in many different climates, the potato is incredibly important to the world’s food supply. So much so that, in 2008, in response to developing economic problems, several international organizations emphasized the potato as a key part of world food production. The United Nations even declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato in order to “increase awareness of the importance of the potato as food in developing nations.”
Why are potatoes good for you?
Nutritionally, potatoes are best known for their carbohydrate content, but there’s more to these babies than that. So much more that, apparently, humans can subsist on just potatoes and milk! Milk provides vitamins A and D, and potatoes—eaten with their skin—are a very good source of:
…and good source of:
They also contain an assortment of phytochemicals. So much so that potatoes’ phenolic content rivals that of broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts. All in all, as many as 60 different phytochemicals and vitamins have been found in the skins and flesh of both wild and commercially grown potatoes.
Oh, and though eating the skin ensures that you get the most out of what potatoes have to offer, it’s a myth that the skin contains “all” of potatoes’ nutrients. The skin contains about half of the fiber, but more than 50% of the nutrients are in the flesh. What’s NOT a myth, though, is that cooking method can significantly impact potatoes’ nutrient availability. Check out these tips to make the most of these surprisingly nutritious vegetables:
And, of course, as good for you as potatoes are, they need to be part of a balanced diet with other veggies and whole grains
Cooking with potatoes
There are many varieties of potatoes, with varying levels of starch content that make a difference depending on your cooking method. Check out this guide to tell high from medium and low starch potatoes, and suggestions on how to cook each.
I did a bunch of Mexican cooking this weekend in honor of Cinco de Mayo this Tuesday, including an old favorite: potato chorizo tacos. But this time, I made this filling, simple taco with an eye toward keeping it healthy. It came out just as satisfying as ever.
Potato Chorizo Tacos
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)*
3 medium organic potatoes, skin on, scrubbed clean
1 tbsp organic vegetable oil
1/2 organic onion, finely chopped (I like using red onion)
1/4 lb all natural, fresh (Mexican) chorizo**, casing removed
1/2 c organic milk
fresh juice of 1/2 organic lime
organic corn tortillas
lime wedges, salsa of some kind, guacamole, creama/sour cream/plain yogurt (optional)
1. Steam or microwave potatoes to retain maximum nutrition. I microwaved mine: poke holes in each potato, place on a microwave safe dish and, if you’re lucky enough to have a microwave with a “potato” button, hit it. Otherwise, a general rule is that one 7-to-8 ounce potato takes about 7 minutes to cook, 2 will take about 11 minutes, 3 a couple more on top of that. Each microwave is different though, so check for doneness by poking with a fork or knife.
2. In the meantime, heat oil in a skillet. When just starting to pop, add onion. Saute until they begin to turn golden brown. Add chorizo and break up clumps as it cooks. You want it to be nicely crumbled. When the chorizo is cooked through, set aside.
3. When potatoes are done, mash with the milk. Keep it rough—you are not trying to get silky smooth mashed potatoes here. Chunks are good.
4. Fold in chorizo and onions (and the fat that cooked off—this is the only fat in the dish, so don’t be scared). Add lime juice. Salt and pepper older kid and adult portions.
5. Serve with corn tortillas, extra lime wedges, and your favorite Mexican condiments. I like these tacos with salsa verde, guacamole, and crema, sour cream, or yogurt (whichever I have on hand). If none of your salsas have cilantro and you’re a fan, definitely add some chopped on top.
Note: This taco filling is also great with green peas, which give a nutrition boost. Simply steam or microwave some fresh or frozen peas and fold them into the potato.
*Though it’s okay to serve fresh, cooked-through sausage to children over 12 months, I waited until closer to 18 months because of the high fat/grease content. If you’re concerned about it, drain some of the chorizo fat to keep it to a minimum. Or—I’ve never done this—maybe try draining the chorizo completely and mash the potatoes using butter or some other fat that you’re more comfortable serving your ChowBaby.
**Mexican chorizo is fresh, whereas Spanish chorizo is dried. Read more about the difference here.