Cooking with Kids

Reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man“?!?  The plumper we get, the more true that may be. . .

Overweight children are more likely to be obese adults.  Obesity in the US is increasing Jamie Oliver bring-food-education-back_502917291bbf9-620x3402about 1 percentage point per year.  Unfortunately the US isn’t alone.  A report  produced by the National Obesity Forum in the UK suggests that half of the UK population could be obese by 2050.  Due to spread of the Western lifestyle around the globe, obesity is now a greater health crisis than hunger.  And it’s an entirely preventable epidemic.

Let’s work on that ounce of prevention.  Invest in the future of a child by fostering a love of real, whole foods.  Involve your kids (or borrow some) in meal preparation and see the pride that comes with making something delicious.  Even if they don’t like a new food or recipe, they’re much more likely to try it if they’ve been involved in making it.  And with repeated exposures over time, they will start to enjoy a wider variety of whole foods (added bonus- you will too!).

In selecting new recipes, incoporate at least 1 ingredient (or side dish) the child recognizes and enjoys.  For example, the MYO Pasta Salad is a great dish to start with.  Most kids love pasta and with a variety of toppings to choose from (beans, veggies, seeds, herbs), they have some control over what goes in, though you should make a quantity minimum (for example, each kid needs to fill a ½ cup with toppings or get a scoop of at least 4 different toppings).  If they’re not old enough to boil water for pasta, have them cut (using a knife or scissors) or tear topping ingredients.

If you’re trying a new one pot dish and there’s nothing obviously recognizable, include whole grain bread as a side after a minimum bite buy-in.  That way the kids have to have a certain number of polite bites before they can have the piece of bread.

Ask your kids to ‘kick it up a notch’ by turning a mundane spaghetti dinner into something adventurous by adding lentils or white beans, canned artichoke hearts, and maybe even sauteed mushrooms into a jar of spaghetti sauce.  Easy and quick- your kids will be making dinners for you in no time!!

Before the kids can have a snack or dessert, ask if they’ve met your family’s daily whole food requirements.  Your requirements can evolve over time but start out with a list that expands everyone’s current repertoire.  For example,  4 servings of veggies, 4 servings of fruit, 2 servings of whole grains, 1 serving of beans or lentils, 1 serving of nuts or seeds.  If you’re more of a bean counter (ha ha), you can always count grams of fiber using a site like this.  Regardless of what method you chose, instead of thinking about what you’re missing, focus on what to eat as in Dr. Fuhrman’s Holiday Challenge.

Use the recipes below to start teaching your kids about the benefits of eating whole foods.  Lower your expectations for what constitutes a proper dinner and kick up the health factor.  Making simple plant-based meals requires minimal planning and kitchen time (it is summer after all), and it’s far cheaper than going out to eat.  Recognize that by eating plant-based foods, you’re transitioning to a low fat diet so satiety will feel different.  Low fat doesn’t mean severe calorie-wise, though.  Instead of a chicken breast and cheesy potatoes, eat two hummus wraps with raw veggies and fresh fruit on the side if that’s what you need to fill up.  Because you’re eating whole, plant-based foods, there’s no need to count calories or fat intake.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to minimize your consumption of nuts and seeds to no more than 1 ounce per day or every other day.  And everyone should avoid processed soy food products (more on soy coming soon- but organic whole soy like edamame, tofu, and tempeh are fine- it’s the isolated soy protein type soy in faux meat products that you want to avoid).

I know first hand from teaching at the local Boys and Girls Club that involving kids in making healthy food gets them excited about plant based eating.  So do yourself a favor – change your expectations about what constitutes a “good” dinner, get in the kitchen, and help the next generation not be as obese as the current one.

Here are some easy ways to do that, ideally with your favorite young’uns.


Carrot salad

Using a food processor, shred the carrots into small pieces.  Transfer to a bowl with a lid.  Add raisins.  Stir in half to a full can of drained pineapple tidbits, depending on how many carrots you used and how sweet you want your salad.  If possible, refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight before serving.  When serving, have sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or walnut pieces available to stir in for extra crunch (as well as omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin E).


A Wrapper (lettuce, cabbage, tortilla, spring roll wrapper, nori, etc)

Spread (any type hummus, guacamole, refried beans, bean spread, mashed avocado, etc)

Veggies (greens, carrots, peppers, onions, sweet potato, leftovers from last night’s dinner, avocado, brocolli, etc)

Optional: A Lil Extra (hot sauce, fresh herbs, seeds, oil-free dressing, tofu or tempeh, etc)

Select your wrap, apply the spread, cover with veggies, and add a lil extra if needed.  Roll up as tightly as possible without breaking the wrapper and enjoy.  To roll the wrap burrito-style: fold one side of the wrap over the contents, then fold the top and bottom sides in, finally roll the burrito toward the final side.

For Sushi Wraps, limit the amount of veggies per wrap and slice into 2 cm sections before serving.


Rice bowls


Cole Slaw

Cabbage, shredded or processed into small bits

Poppy seed salad dressing

Mandarin oranges or diced apples

Sliced almonds or sunflower seeds

Combine the first 3 ingredients to taste.  Add sliced almonds or sunflower seeds just before serving.


Black bean mango salsa


Massaged Kale salad


Caramelized Onions

Once your child is ready to use the stove, caramelized onions are a great place to start.  Caramelized onions make simple dishes like wraps, rice bowls, and spaghetti that much more delicious.  Peel and slice the onions (always cut way more than you think you can use because they shrink so much when cooked).  Add the onions to a large pan over medium heat and stir regularly to loosen the cooked bits from the pan.  Have a container of water nearby to add water by the spoonful as needed when the onions stick or start to burn.  The great thing about caramelized onions is you only cook them as long as you have time for.


Mac and Trees


Spaghetti with white beans, mushrooms, artichokes

Jar of spaghetti sauce

Can of lentils or white beans

Can of artichoke hearts or pieces

Fresh mushrooms, sauteed

Pasta or rice, cooked

Sautee the mushrooms if using.  Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and heat through.  Serve over pasta or rice.



Photo Credit:

Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day –