Tag Archives: kids

Teaching Teens & Tweens

As I prepare for my pro-bono teaching gig at East Side (St Paul) Boys & Girls Club tomorrow, I feel like I’ll be stepping into an episode of reality TV.

The Challenge (insert dramatic chords): show a group of tweens & teens how to make healthful food in 50 min from start to finish, with no knives. Cram a little nutrition info in there too. And I’m one of the lucky guest chefs in that the Boys & Girls Club has an actual kitchen and is giving us free rein.

Tracy and kids at North End Teen Center

Tracy and tweens at St Paul’s then-newly opened North End Teen Center in 2011.

This is all being organized by Free Arts Minnesota, an arts non-profit for which I used to volunteer, and whose mission is “Art Heals”. Free Arts coordinates teams of adult mentors to lead weekly arts & crafts sessions w/ disadvantaged children at 40-some facilities in the metro. In a push to emphasize health, it has created a new Healthy Minds and Bodies program and pulled in guest chefs to each lead a series of 3 cooking sessions with these teams. So, instead of painting or collaging, we’re going to make food. The audience and parameters, however, are very dissimilar to the adult cooking classes I’m teaching thru community education in the next 2 weeks (schedule in previous post; more details coming next post).

Fortunately, I’ve taught several classes to tweens & teens before, including St Paul’s North End Teen Center (see 2011 post) and at Plymouth Middle School, but in those cases, we could use knives. Fresh vegetables, even potatoes, require knives.

There are, of course, lots of fairly easy sweet treats that we could make, that are highly appealing to kids and don’t need knives. S’mores, designer popcorn balls, etc. Yet more sweet treats is not our goal. And, there are lots of quick & interesting “healthful” recipes, the kind that I teach to adults all the time. But, these are kids in an urban after-school program. They’re probably not going to run home and make quinoa salad. 

These are not adults who have access to cars & money to shop for ingredients or who have gadgets like blenders, and, neither are they necessarily motivated to take time & effort to make real food. We don’t know what their home situations are. In fact, some may not have regular access to food at home, let alone regular meals  — this is the definition of Food Insecurity.

Source: linda5900 from Photobucket.com.

A recent news report this summer stated that 9.5% of households in Minnesota experience Food Insecurity. That’s 1 in 10 households and 1 in 8 children (source Second Harvest Heartland).  Approx 375,000 MN children depend on the National School Lunch and Breakfast program for free/reduce-priced daily meals (as provided for in the Federal Nutrition Bill). In the summer when there’s no school, 80% of these kids go hungry. The MN Dept of Education’s “Summer Food Service Program” admirably tries to address this gap.  During my back-to-school-year studying Dietetic Technology, I spent a month with co-sponsor Second Harvest Heartland, knocking on doors, leaving flyers and talking up folks in North & South Mpls neighborhoods where 4 pilot programs were being launched. These 4 offered free lunches to both adults and kids — traditional programs offered lunch only to the kids and made the adult chaperones wait outside. Guess which one worked better for the whole family?   Either way, hopefully both the traditional and the new projects continue to grow and serve more hungry folks.

I want to teach these kids — any kids, anybody really — to cook real food they can make easily at home, by themselves or with family, that they like and can be proud of, that use cheap & easily purchased ingredients, and, that happen to be healthful.  

Readers of this blog know that these are the 4 key factors in my entire approach to cooking, ie my mission. Anybody can make nice food with gourmet ingredients and lots of time. And that’s great — when you do, celebrate it, and invite me over!

But, the people who would most benefit from learning healthful ways of eating do not surf Epicurious.com or read “Martha Stewart Living”. They do not peruse blogs about gluten-free and vegan foods. And, it’s not just the lowest-income bracket. The ‘middle’ could also learn a few new things. 8.3% Americans (26 million) are affected by diabetes. Diagnosed cases shot from 1.5 million in 1958 to 18.8 million in 2010; another 7 million are as yet undiagnosed. More stats. 

OK, so I have my work cut out for me.  Back to my 3 cooking sessions at the Boys & Girls Club. 

Given the time constraints and these goals, my game plan is to use mostly plain ie unadulterated packaged foods and teach them to combine and customize. These are mainstream foods that most tweens & teens are familiar with and hopefully already like to eat. I’m channeling Sarah Lee and Readers Digest, I guess. I’ll save the quinoa for next week’s adult classes.

For teens & kids in general, the key is not too many steps = quick pay-off. I’ll divide the kids & mentors into teams and assign them different dishes or tasks.

Session #1:  Custom-flavored cream cheeses like pineapple & cilantro, salsa, cranberry, and herb. We’ll use ziplocs and pipe it into celery & hollowed out cukes a la “ants on a log”, and, make roll-up wraps and possibly quesadillas either in the microwave or on stove-top. Tweens into cuteness can make pinwheels.

Session #2:  Easy Eggs and Tunafish Salad. High-protein snacks and meals that a 10-yr old can make. Hopefully, some of the older teens have knife privileges so I can show them how to dice celery, apples & onion.

Session #3: Graduation Dinner of 2 quick stews and rice. 1) Chicken w/ Mixed Veg and 2) Beans & Greens. The only ingredient to chop is onion & garlic; we’ll use frozen veggies and canned beans and broths.

My goal: happy proud kids.

As mentioned above, a year or so ago, I taught a couple cooking classes at St Paul’s North End Teen Center to tweens & teens. (See posts from mid-2011).We had 2 hours and knives, however, which enabled us to make from scratch such dishes as bean & veg salad, hummus, pico de gallo, chili, and nut-balls. The group was great and very willing; some older teens were excellent choppers. Actually, I didn’t have enough tasks for all the kids to be occupied the whole time. So that requires more strategizing in future.

See me @Farm 2 School Community BBQ

Breaking news:  yes, I will be handing out delish samples at the Farm2School Community BBQ next FRIDAY Sept 21st. Come say Hi!

This celebration of Farm to School month is being held 4pm – 7pm at the Minneapolis Public School’s Culinary & Nutrition Services Headquarters, at 812 North Plymouth Ave. (5 min from exit off Hwy 94 West.)

Enjoy a dinner of Turkey Sliders, Coleslaw, Cucumber Salsa, Roasted Corn!  Meet local farmers!  Fun family activities include farm animals; face painting; gardening & compost demo; corn shucking contest. It’ll be like the State Fair, but free.

This is me, taking a cleansing breath, during a Little Locavores cooking demo at the Mpls Farmers Market. My sous-chefs were so ably snipping away at greens with their craft scissors that I decided to meditate for a bit. Photo by Sharon Ramirez.

As for me, I will be serving up samples of Carrots & Kale Salad in Orange Ginger Vinaigrette. A very colorful and tasty dish especially with the locally grown super-fresh veggies I’ll use. Kids will recognize by its bright colors that it’s chock-full of nutrients, too. A mega Vitamin A booster.

It is an easy, versatile dish for both adults and kids to make and cheap to boot.

In fact, I think I will have craft scissors on hand and ask for volunteers to snip kale. With these scissors, kids as young as 3 can help in the kitchen.*

These 6-yr olds in the photo at left were very proud of their handiwork and rightly so. They made a gourmet salad: roast beet, raw beet & beet greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, topped with a chiffonade of basil. Craft scissors are excellent for chiffonade, did you know?

*Youngsters don’t slice & dice as fast as you or I can, obviously, but that is not the point. The point is to get them positively involved.

See you next Friday at the Community BBQ!

Transforming school lunch

Not your father’s lunch line. Photo from iatp.org; used under creative commons license from USDAgov.

Gov Dayton has proclaimed September as official Farm to School Month in MN! Paraphrasing the IATP blog (Institute of Agricultural Trade Policy): “Farm to School initiatives link school-age children with local foods and the farmers who produced them. At 145 school districts serving two-thirds of Minnesota’s K-12 students, students are learning where their food comes from, trying fresh foods they haven’t eaten before and learning to grow food in school gardens.”  Read the press release here.


IATP created a terrific video of a Farm-to-School project in Arlington MN “Sibley East High School: Growing a Better School Lunch” which includes comments by student farmers and the Lunch Ladies who’ve learned to use fresh produce for lunch and also freeze the bounty for later.

 It’s a wonderful year with all our fresh fruits & vegetables… Our students here really really like it. Yes it is more work but when you see the faces of the students — “oh is this from the garden?! — and [the news] goes down the line… So they give really good feedback.

I enjoy eating the food we grow cuz it’s like we’re getting back all the effort we put into it, says a senior.

Students, and probably adults too, are “trying fresh foods they haven’t eaten before” — now that is what I like to hear! Very cool things are happening all over MN. TONS of info, resources & tool-kits on Farm2Schoolmn.org.

Nice job, St Paul Public Schools! from School Food Focus.

Another great resource organization: School Food FOCUS (transforming Food Options for Children in Urban Schools).

And, UK chef Jamie Oliver’s infamous attack on unhealthful food served in public schools and his resulting Foundation.


Come Sample This Sunday

Kohlrabi “alien puppets”. Why not?

 I’ll be demoing this Sun, July 1st at the Kingfield Farmers Market, 4310 Nicollet Ave (South Mpls). This terrific & beloved neighborhood market is open every Sunday 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. It’s a wonderful cozy and very friendly alternative to the larger, more overwhelming markets. I always bump into tons of acquaintances there. Note: park around the block somewhere as parking on Nicollet is a competitive sport.

My demo is part of a series called “The Veggie Butcher”, sponsored by Erik Brown Homes. Each guest chef will show you what to do with whatever veggies are at the market that day. Mysteries of that funny-looking Kohlrabi, revealed, and that sort of thing. Free samples, of course!

I’m going to do various chopped salads and make fun vinaigrettes to mix and match. For instance:

  • Beet Napa Cabbage Slaw
  • Orange-Cilantro Vinaigrette (the recipe on blog is for Orange Mint so just substitute Cilantro or Dill…)
  • Chipotle Vinaigrette
  • Marinated Minty Kohlrabi SaladI may add some quinoa or other grain to one of these, for a 3rd, heartier salad that’s gluten-free, too. Various recipes are on this blog already (see Recipe page).

    Why chopped salads vs lettuce salads? Because you get more vegetables per serving, that’s why, which means more nutrients and more fiber. And b/c once marinated in vinaigrette, chopped salads last a week in your frig, as opposed to lettuces, which won’t. Notice that farm & garden-fresh leaf lettuces are more delicate  than store-bought and wilt faster.

I’ll return to Kingfield to do an interactive kid’s demo on July 15th, 10.30am- 1pm at the Kids’ Tent. This will be a version of my “Lil Locavores” show. Kids from the audience will help make salads and do fun educational skits!

More Farmers Market demos are coming on following weekends  — see Farmers Market Appearances page for dates & places.

Harvesting Justice: Farmworkers, Food and You

Craft scissors are perfect for kids in the kitchen. These sous chefs are making fancy roast beet & beet greens salad.

Come eat a tasty organic dinner & discuss food justice at an Earth Day Dinner & Film Nite next Wed eve, Apr 25th, at First Universalist Church @ 3400 Dupont Ave So, Mpls.  It’s family-friendly w/ kid activities and child care. Kids will see film about Cesar Chavez while adults watch “The Harvest”.  Starts 5.30pm, Dinner at 6pm, Films follow. 

I’m making dinner w/ volunteers, plus, I’m doing my Aunty Oxidant interactive cooking demo@ 5.30pm.  The full show, “Little Locavores”, was developed for the Mpls Farmers Market in 2009. The kids help me make salads and act in skits about Antioxidants and Locavores, and if there’s time, we play games like “Hot Kohlrabi”, “Name That Vegetable” or “Farmer Obstacle Course”.

As usual, my menu is gluten-free & vegan.  Is this hard to plan? No. Will it be wholesome, toothsome yet gobsmackingly good? Yes.

ALL ORGANIC MENU:  Beet Slaw, Quinoa Salad*, Tossed Greens, Pureed Parsnip, White Bean & Celery Soup w/ Parsley Coulis, local bread & Hope butter, gluten-free beet chocolate cake, vegan chocolate pudding, navel oranges. Bean quesadillas available for picky kidlets.

Pureed Parsnip Parsley Soup

Event: Harvesting Justice: Farmworkers, Food and You
Venue: First Universalist Church @ 3400 Dupont Ave So, Mpls
Time: 5.30pm – 8pm.
Childcare: Free.
Cost: Nada (donations accepted)
Cool Quotient: High.

RSVP online at http://firstuniv.org/EarthDay2012


* Variants of Beet Slaw and Quinoa Salad are on my Recipe Page.

More Delivered Dish of the Week Menus

Feb 12-18
Sun-dried Tomato & White Bean Cassoulet. With chard, broccoli and sage. Vegan & Gluten-free.
Carrot & Beet Slaw in Mint Vinaigrette. Super dose of Vit A and iron. You may be surprised that kids like this sweet fuschia-colored salad. Vegan & Gluten-free.
Feb 19 – 25
Super Green Split Pea Soup. With chopped greens. Delicious & comforting Fiber-Fest.Vegan & Gluten-free. See Recipe to make it yourself!
Quinoa, Roast Celeriac & Green Bean Pilaf w/ Dill. Vegan & Gluten-free.See more menus — future, current and past — at the DD Menu Archive.

Jan – Feb Menus

Jan 15 – 21
1) Green Tamale Casserole. Vegan, gluten-free. You asked and you shall receive! The most popular dish of Fall 2011 is back. Presented in a foil loaf pan, this layers beans & chopped kale stewed in a tomatillo sauce with steamed corn tamale dough made from Bob’s Red Mill organic masa flour. Kid-friendly. Add a little cheese on top when reheating if you wish. Keeps and freezes well.

2) Colorful Cabbage Slaw in Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette. Vegan, gluten-free. A crunchy, satisfying raw salad that is perfect with tamales, soup, meats, beans and especially in tacos & burritos. Eat a cup or more a day to keep the doctor away. You can also mix it with plain rice or quinoa for a piquant pilaf, or, throw it in ramen/pho or tom yung gang soup.

Jan 22 – 28
1) Mafe Stew with Sweet Potatoes, Kale and Red Beans. Vegan, gluten-free; contains peanuts. Mafe is a delicious West African dish made with tomato sauce & peanut butter (called ground nuts). Sounds funny but the nut butter adds richness and balances the acidity of tomatoes, as do the sweet potatoes. It just tastes like a creamy tomato sauce. Kids love it. Addictive and extremely comforting.

2) Mafe w/ Chicken, Sweet Potatoes and Kale. Gluten-free. This dish fits the Paleo diet profile, substituting chicken for beans.

3) Millet with Caramelized Onions & Carrots. Vegan, gluten-free. Millet is dry and bland all by itself, so I like to make it with soft moist veggies. It will continue to dry out in the refrigerator, so sprinkle a little water each time you reheat. A very mild dish that kids might like.

Jan 29 – Feb 4
1) Curried Barley Salad with Cranberries & Coconut. Vegan; contains gluten. A very popular catering dish that gets better as it sits. Chewy satisfying barley is wonderful in grain salads, especially with chopped crunchy veggies. Not spicy.

2) Mulligatawny Lentil Soup. Vegan, gluten-free. A slight twist on the classic Anglo-Indian curried soup that has apples, lots of veg and fresh parsley. Both of this week’s dishes have ‘curry’ spices — guess what I’m craving — but I will make them different enough. Add sliced almonds or almond butter for a fancy touch.

Feb 5 – 11
1) Garbanzo Thai Coconut Curry. Vegan; Masaman curry paste contains gluten so pls notify far in advance if you want a gluten-free green curry instead. With greens and some squash, this is a very comforting one-pot meal w/ rice. Mildly spicy.

2) Laab TVP Salad. Vegan, gluten-free; contains soy. Same as the Laab Noodle Salad served this summer but without noodles. Just lots of crunchy raw veg like cabbage & radishes layered with marinated TVP in a bright, Thai, lime-juice dressing. Will have a bit of Thai-pepper kick.