We did another fun project last week to learn about root vegetables. I chose parsnips and potatoes because they can have a similar texture, even though they seem to be completely different. Parsnips are closely related to carrots. They are a root vegetable, meaning they grow underground, and are a white or cream color with a sweet flavor. I chose russet potatoes to compare to the parsnips because they have a similar texture, cooking time, and are both root veggies.
I have been wanting to cook with parsnips for years and I never have. Last week I added them to our shopping list and decided to give them a try. Most people don’t even know what a parsnip is, so they are unwilling to try them. If you like carrots and potatoes, you will like parsnips.I wanted to show Oliver how different vegetables can be very similar once they are cooked. I explained to him that potatoes and parsnips both grow underground. Of course Oliver doesn’t care why they are good for him, but I do, so here are some health facts about potatoes and parsnips.
Parsnips have more sugar than other vegetables in the same family, but they still offer some great healthy benefits. They are rich in fiber, have lots of vitamin C, folic acid, and minerals like iron, magnesium and potassium. Potatoes (russet) are also high in sugar compared to other potatoes, but they are great for baking or mashing. They also offer vitamin C, are fat-free, cholesterol free, and high in fiber. Here is what we did for our project.
What we learned about potatoes and parsnips:
On the outside:
Potatoes and parsnips look very different.
Potatoes have brown skin and parsnips have white skin.
Parsnips look like carrots, but they are white.
Potatoes have dimples and bumps all over them.
Parsnips skin is wrinkly and potato skin is rough and dry.
Both can have dirt on them because they grow in the ground.
You can peel the skin off or leave it on, but you have to clean it first.
On the inside:
Parsnips and potatoes are both white when you cut them open.
The flesh on the inside of the skin is firm.
Potatoes have starch in them that you can see on your hand or the cutting board.
They both look the same when they are cut into strips for french fries.
The skin feels different after you peel the potatoes and parsnips.
Both become soft when they are cooked.
You can bake them as french fries or mash them.
What you need for this project:A sharp knife, cutting board, and potato peeler. You will also need two sauce pots, three small bowls and a large sheet pan. We prepared the potatoes and parsnip two ways: french fries and mashed. We made the french fries first. Preheat the oven to 425 F and set out your large sheet pan. Begin by peeling two large parsnips and cutting them in half. Remove any bad spots from the potato and cut off the ends. I always leave the skin on potatoes for french fries. When you have peeled and chopped the parsnips and potatoes, line them on the sheet pan. Separate the two on each side of the pan. You can see in the picture that they look very similar when they are cut this way. Let your little one pick them up and ask them to pick out a parsnip and a potato to see if they can see the difference. Sprinkle the potatoes and parsnip fries with olive oil and sea salt. Bake them for about 1 hour, or until the middles are soft and the edges crunchy. While the fries are baking you can prepare the mashed potatoes and parsnips. Fill each pot half way with water, peel the potatoes and parsnips and cut them into cubes.Before I cut them, I let Oliver investigate each vegetable again. He thought the parsnips were carrots when he got to the table. After I explained the difference between the two he said, “Not carrots.” Now they are called “not carrots” instead of parsnips. We will have to work on that. Oliver’s jobs for this project included:
putting the potatoes and parsnips in the pot
throwing the peeled skins into the trash can
placing the potatoes and parsnips on the sheet pan to make french fries
Boil the potatoes and parsnips until you can pierce them easily with a fork. The parsnips took a little longer to boil, but they should be ready by the time the fries are done.
While you are waiting for them to cook, take a large sheet of paper and divide it in half with a black marker. One side will be the potato side and the other will be for parsnips. Each side will have fries and mash and in the center of the two there will be a mixture of both. When the potatoes are soft, mash half of them in a bowl with a little salt and 1 tablespoon of butter. Repeat with the parsnips. Finally, mix the remaining parsnips and potatoes together for the last mash. I used small storage containers to hold the mashed veggies and added it to our diagram. Looking at them, you can hardly tell a difference between the two once they are cooked. I let Oliver explore everything on the diagram before we went over what we made. He put all the french fried potatoes into the mashed potatoes before he was ready to try them. To my surprise, he tasted everything! He didn’t like the parsnip fries very much and the parsnip mash was too sweet. He did like the potato french fries, but not the mashed potatoes. He liked the parsnip and potato mash the best and ate a few bites of that. This project took some time, but it was worth it. Oliver tried a new food, and we learned some fun facts about vegetables. I love mashed potatoes as well, so I ate the parsnip and potato mash for lunch.
Projects like these will help your child learn about where their food comes from, the variety of ways that food can be prepared, and encourage them to try new things. They will also learn about vegetable color, shape, texture, and size. It is so important to let your kids be involved in their food choices, even at a young age. Some children will eat what is put in front of them, but others need more help. They want to know why they are supposed to eat it and where it came from.
Tip: Make them feel like they are actively involved in the food choices you make for them and the picky eating habits will begin to change.