Cooking skills used to be passed down from generation to generation, but as fast food and packaged meals proliferated in our culture, many people lost the basic “know-how” of food prep. Food Revolution Day, a campaign put on by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, aims to solve this issue by teaching children about food and cooking. The goal of this campaign is to get children excited about food by educating them in an engaging way, which will help teach them the skills that they need to live healthier lives.
“Cooking is, without a doubt, one of the most important skills a person can ever learn and share. Once someone has that knowledge, that’s it—they’re set for life.”—Jamie Oliver.
Keeping Children Engaged
Food education doesn’t have to stop after this one day. You can keep the kids in your life excited about and engaged in the cooking process year-round. Food Network star, author of Ten Dollar Dinners and mom of four girls, Melissa d’Arabian explains how she keeps her daughters involved in the meal process.
This excerpt is from a question and answer session with d’Arabian which ran in the September 2012 issue of IDEA Food & Nutrition Tips.
IDEA Food & Nutrition Tips: How do you engage your children to learn more about food?
d’Arabian: While I don’t get them involved in packing the lunches because it becomes too much about opinions, whims and moods, in general I do believe in grocery shopping with my kids. Not all the time, but I do believe in taking them to the grocery store with me and letting them have free rein in the produce aisle. For instance I will say to them, “Okay, girls, I need two bunches of cilantro—who wants to be in charge of picking that out?” And then they go and get it. Or, I’ll say, “I need a bunch of kale. Here, why don’t you take this bag and one of you go get the kale.” “Mommy, which one’s the kale?” So they’re learning what produce looks like and how to select it.
My kids are very involved in choosing and touching the produce. I feel if they spend a half-an-hour having positive feelings about produce and feeling great about picking and buying the food that, number one, there’s a greater chance they’ll eat it; but more importantly for me, they have now spent a half-an-hour having positive feelings about healthy food—whether they eat it or not. I have one daughter who makes our salads all the time. She loves to spin, wash, toss, dress and serve the salads, but she doesn’t like salad. And I feel like that’s okay. I feel like it is more important for her to understand what the salad is and what the benefits are.
IDEA Food & Nutrition Tips: What are some of your strategies for developing positive food relationships in your kids?
d’Arabian: I think it’s especially important with girls and the mixed messages they get about food. It’s important for everybody, but since I’m raising four girls, that’s what I think about. I want to set them up for positive feelings about healthy food. I want them to understand it’s not about being skinny, it’s really about what the food and the nutrients do to fuel your body.
So we do a couple things. One is involving them in the selection of food in the grocery store. Another is for one of them to “present” the meal each night. This means they explain to everybody at the table what’s being served. So it’s not just “We’re having chicken and pasta and salad.” It’s “We’re having chicken and it’s yellow because of the turmeric and it’s called chicken tagine.” Then we talk very briefly about the food. It takes maybe a minute or two. We also quickly categorize that chicken is a protein and that the carbs on the plate will give us fiber and energy, and the vegetable and the fruit will give us a lot of vitamins. I want them to understand that it’s not just “good food” but that they’re getting different benefits from different foods so they can appreciate the need for variety. The other thing we do is serve more than one vegetable every night. That way, it’s fine you don’t want carrots but you want green beans. You don’t have to have both. We talk about eating a rainbow of colors and different vitamins for different colors.
Finally, sitting down for dinner as a family is important.
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Why not start tonight? Getting your children involved is as easy as picking a recipe that they will enjoy eating and can have fun making. These quick veggie pita pizzas are a healthy and fun option.
4 whole-wheat pita bread rounds
1 cup prepared pasta sauce (with vegetables, not meat)
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small zucchini, finely diced
1 small summer squash, finely diced
21/2- to 3-ounce jar or can of sliced mushrooms, drained
1 teaspoon (tsp) dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
8 tsp grated Parmesan cheese
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. On oven rack or in toaster oven, toast pita rounds for 1 minute. Remove, and let cool. Spread 1/4 cup of pasta sauce on each pita round.
In a medium bowl, combine red pepper, zucchini, squash and mushrooms. Spoon mixture evenly over pita rounds. Sprinkle each round with 1/4 tsp basil and oregano. Divide mozzarella among pita rounds, and top each with 2 tsp Parmesan cheese. Add crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.
Broil, but watch carefully! Pitas are ready when cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately. Makes four servings.
Per Serving: 86 calories; 6 grams (g) fat; 10 g protein; 26 g carbs; 3 g fiber; 755 milligrams sodium.
Source: American Institute for Cancer Research.
You can find more information on Food Revolution Day and learn how to get involved at www.foodrevolutionday.com.