Last month I had nine eager young chefs in my kitchen. We gathered to chat about how the health of the soils relates to the nutrient value in the plants that we eat. Bottom Line? Healthy soils = healthy people. After tracing ingredients in our favorite foods back to the soil and discussing the plant parts that we eat, the students headed to the food prep area to practice their knife skills. They learned proper techniques for chopping veggies such as carrots, cucumbers, peppers and onions. These ingredients were combined to create a tasty lentil salad that we shared together on the patio during a beautiful crisp autumn day.
Parents often ask me how to get their kids to eat healthy and my response is to get them involved in a part of the process. For some, it’s growing fresh veggies and fruits. For others kids, its’s creating simple dishes using fun kitchen tools. In my experience working with youth, I have found that they are more likely to eat fresh fruits and veggies if they are involved in the entire process, from seed to plate. I wanted to share some of my tips for getting kids involved!
Give them a space in a kitchen cupboard to keep smaller, kid-friendly pots, pans, cutting board, a salad spinner and their other favorite kitchen utensils.
Give them a small shelf or drawer in the refrigerator with ingredients to make their own snacks. Some healthy snacks that your kids might store in the refrigerator include: cut veggies, grape tomatoes, fruit, nut butters, hummus, yoghurt dip, cottage cheese, black bean bean dip and hard-boiled eggs.
Purchase an inexpensive child’s apron or chef’s hat at your local craft store and let your child decorate it with fabric markers, appliques and puffy paint.
Provide a sturdy stool so that your child can reach the counter and sink. The object of the game is to make them as comfortable as possible. I find that these Kikkerland foldable stools from Bed, Bath and Beyond work very well and they come in fun colors!
If your child is old enough and mature enough to handle the responsibility of a knife, have them help cut fruits and veggies. If you never learned proper knife techniques and safety, consider taking a knife skills class and sharing that information with your child. Also, sign your child up for a cooking class that emphasizes knife skills and safety. This is the first think I teach in my cooking classes. Remember, a dull knife is a dangerous knife. I find it silly to give children tools (this goes for gardening tools, too) that aren’t sturdy or effective because they aren’t safe and it simply frustrates them and turns them off to cooking and gardening. With my kids cooking classes, I use Kuhn Rikon’s 3-inch Mini Prep Knife and Cuisinart’s 5-inch Santoku Knife.
Have them help with the following tasks, especially if they are not old enough to use a knife:
- Measure ingredients.
- Set the table and light candles with assistance from an adult or older sibling.
- Let them choose dinner music.
- Have them make special place mats or place cards for family members and guests.
- Encourage them to help with cleanup.
- Break out the salad spinner and let them wash the lettuce. Kids also enjoy making salad dressing!
During the summer, give them a container in which to grow greens or a few easy herbs such as basil, chives, oregano or parsley (arugula is a great one that can be used as an herb or as a green for salad, sandwiches and pasta).
Get them started in composting indoors or outdoors as it encourages healthier snacks and foods without packaging! Indoor worm composting is a huge hit with kids.
If you have space, create a small veggie and herb garden with your child.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. I’ll be sharing more recipes and tips for cooking with kids in the coming months. In the meantime, enjoy making this lentil salad with your kids!
Source: adapted from The Daily Bean by Suzanne Caciola White
- 4 cups of fresh watercress or spinach
- 4 cups cooked lentils (pre-soak)
- 1 cup chopped yellow pepper
- 1 cup chopped green pepper
- 1 cup chopped red pepper
- 1 cup chopped orange pepper
- 1 cup chopped red onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes (could use more)
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup olive oil
- 4 TBSP balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 splashes of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 TBSP honey
Combine the beans, peppers, lentils, red onion, celery, cherry tomatoes and ¾ of the greens and toss lightly with the dressing.
To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients and pour over the salad.
Serve on a bed of the leftover greens.