By Erik Talkin, author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster™
I work at a food bank, a place that stores and distributes healthy food to organizations and individuals in Santa Barbara County, California. We provide over 20 million pounds of food a year to families who need help. Over this past year, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that we’ve been providing this food to a lot more people than usual—including many who have never visited a food bank before.
In my years of working with families, I’ve discovered that food is one of the cheapest forms of medicine to keep us healthy. Yet there’s limited value in giving people healthy food unless they know what to do with it. Building families’ and children’s food knowledge so they know how to prepare nutritious meals and stay healthy is a big part of our work. We start that sort of training in preschool, and carry it right on until young people are graduating from college. The sooner it starts, the healthier children can become. And the best place for kids to learn how to cook is not in some big training kitchen, but right there in your own kitchen, no matter how small.
Helping make food builds independence for kids, and it’s also a lot of fun for the whole family. The kitchen can be a lot more exciting than staring at a screen—even if you’re watching a cooking program. Once kids get comfortable making things in the kitchen, they will get more adventurous. You may also find that they will eat things that they might have once considered “too healthy,” because they have had a hand in making them.
It all starts with you. It all starts now.
Time to put theory into practice! Here are a couple of recipes that I’ve adapted from the BBC Good Food website (bbcgoodfood.com). You can make one of them for a lunch or dinner, and the other can be a dessert or anytime snack. The main thing is that they are both easy and fun to make!
Rainbow Salad Pots
Most young kids love colorful foods and love having all their food separated out. (If only they were so neat in cleaning up their bedrooms!) So this recipe is perfect in both ways. It is a great way to use old glass jars that you have saved. This recipe makes enough salad for four 12- to 16-ounce jars. If you don’t have jars, you can use drinking glasses, clear plastic cups, or similar containers.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
2 cups short pasta (such as macaroni or bow-tie pasta)
1 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned green beans, chopped into short lengths
1 5-ounce can of tuna, drained
4 Tbsp mayonnaise
4 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 bell pepper (red, yellow, orange, or green), diced
1 cup of canned sweet corn, drained
- Cook the pasta in salted water until it’s still a little al dente (firm), which usually takes about 2 minutes less than the package instructions say. Drain well. Cook the green beans according to whether they are fresh, frozen, or canned, then rinse in cold water and drain well. Mix the tuna with the mayonnaise and yogurt.
- Put the pasta into the bottom of the jars (or other containers), dividing it as equally as possible among four containers. Spoon the tuna mixture over the top of the pasta. Add a layer of green beans, followed by a layer of cherry tomatoes, then the bell peppers and sweet corn. Cover and chill until you’re ready to eat.
Healthy eating with donuts? How can that be? These apple “donuts” are made without pastry and are still delicious, especially for those kids who love to smear peanut butter onto apples.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Servings: 15–18 “donuts”
¾ cup cream cheese
2 tsp honey
4 Tbsp peanut butter, almond butter, or sunbutter
sprinkles to decorate (optional)
- In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese and honey. Peel the apples and then slice through the core of each to make five or six slices. Use an apple corer or cookie cutter to stamp out a circle from the middle of each slice, creating a donut shape. Pat the slices dry using paper towels. Getting them as dry as possible will help the toppings stick.
- Spread some nut butter over each slice, then top with the sweetened cream cheese. Decorate with sprinkles, if using, and devour!
I hope you enjoy these two delicious recipes. My daughter has already told me she wants one of the rainbow salad pots in her lunch this week!
Erik Talkin is also a writer and filmmaker and has served as a principal in two production companies. His short film The Gallery, starring Helena Bonham Carter, was selected for the London Film Festival. He has won an International Television Association Award for writing and directing educational drama, and his theatrical work has been produced on the London Fringe. Erik lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Erik is the author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster.
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