I can’t find my rutabaga…

I sure hope it will turnip.

Two weekends ago, on a cold and drizzly Saturday, I got to play around a whole bunch of food, and got to have kids try veggies they normally wouldn’t touch with a 39 1/2 foot pole. That’s right, I did a fun food program called Taming the Plate. It was awesome.

My mother works in an elementary school as the kitchen manager. We have discussions on an almost daily basis about the horrible eating habits that kids have developed. Not only do they not realize where their food comes from, they also don’t like to eat fruit and veg, try anything new or that isn’t a processed mess, and despise anything labeled healthy. All they want are chicken nuggets, chips, ice cream, and chocolate milk. And when even the MILK has 20-something grams of sugar, you know there is a problem.

She has made it her mission, and indeed has even gotten a grant for it, to get the kids eating better. She wants them to know where their food comes from, what it looks like from seed, to plant, to bud, to fully grown, to cooked. She wants them to realize the work, and the potential that goes into real food.

She and another teacher in her school, have started a Gardening club. They grow veggies, herbs, and greens throughout the year, and get to sample their hard work. I read somewhere that kids are more likely to try foods that they have a hand in making–either cooking or growing.

So, my mom talks the kids through cooking up the various crops and gets them excited about trying new things. And as she says, “you don’t have to like it, but you do have to TRY it.” That was our family motto growing up, and now look! Eating octopus and everything.

By combining the growing of veggies and the cooking, my mom gets the kids talking about the plants and where their food comes from–that’s right, not just from the store. And no, tomatoes are not just made for ketchup. They get their hands dirty planting, pollinating, weeding, and harvesting. It’s great fun.

They even have more kids this year than last year! Always promising. And the kids are suggesting veggies they want to grow! Eggplant. Squash. Spinach. And, thankfully, they all have tried (and enjoyed) what she’s made so far.

Cooking-with-kids-recipe-ideasShe started asking me to come up with some creative recipes to get the kids to eat the veggies, without them actually knowing they were eating them. That brought about my interest in finding the perfect beet brownie recipe. It also brought about the No Chicken Chicken Nuggets recipe that I put on here a few weeks ago. Then came a white bean oatmeal raisin cookie. The possibilities to sneak veggies into junk food are endless.

And delicious.

For the program, I had about 8 families, 17 people in total. Moms, dads, grandmas, and kids. The kids ranged in age from 5-10. I think they kids hovered about the 5-8 range. To me, that seems to be about the time when kids are actively against the idea of eating of veggies. So, I had my work cut out for me.

I started out the program with having them sample ‘junk food’ or sweets. I didn’t tell them what was in it, but who doesn’t love brownies and oatmeal raisin cookies. It was only after they exclaimed how delicious they were that I told participants what was actually in their food. Beets in the brownies and beans in the cookies.

My favorite response was, after one little girl took a huge bite of brownies and exclaimed that it was yum and then I told her it had beets, “But….I don’t like beets.” She looked at the brownie in her hand, and looked about ready to spit her bite out.

I said to her, “But you like the brownie, right?”

She nodded.

“So, since it has beets in it, beets can’t be all that bad can they?” She looked at her brownie again, swallowed her bite, and shrugged. She had a second helping of brownie.

In fact, all the kids (and grownups) enjoyed the healthy treats and asked for recipes. After that, it was the snack portion of the day. I had some ideas for fun snack foods that included veggies, grains, dairy, and protein–basically trying to hit as many of the essential food groups as possible.

We did tomato and mozzarella caterpillars on a basil leaf. Some kids had never tried mozzarella before! I encouraged them to try all the components separately and then together, to see which they liked the best.

Next, our caterpillars morphed into celery, sunflower seed butter, pretzel and raisin butterflies.

From there, the butterflies were eaten by rice cracker, sunflower seed butter (or cream cheese), pepita, and raisin owls.

And finally, to round out our eco-system, we had rice cake aquariums with cream cheese, gold fish, and veggie slices.

the veg While they were creating their animal snacks, I also came around with the veggie nuggets. They scarfed those down too! And when I asked them to guess what was in them, they were again surprised that they had no meat, only cauliflower and beans.

The kids had such a blast at the program. The created their own food scenes, sampled raw veggies in new ways, and saw it was easy to create something fun, healthy, and delicious. I think they took away a sense that veggies and eating healthy isn’t all that bad. I think they also might have a bit of mistrust for me, since every piece of innocuous junk food I gave them was sneakily healthy. Which just makes me giggle.



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