Cookin' with the Kids
Simple Sides: SPINACH, GRAPES & LENTILS!
By Dennis Linden
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
It’s August, time to move culinary lessons into the backyard! While grilling season means that open flame cooking is usually left to the head of the household, the family BBQ still provides a great opportunity for your aspiring sous chefs to help prepare some lighter, no-cook dishes more appropriate to the season. Here’s a tasty, dual-role side dish that is part cold summer salad and part hearty lentil casserole. This simple, one-bowl recipe requires two experience levels; there are a few tasks suited for a child with some elementary slicing experience as well as a few things a very young helper can do that require no sharp implements and just a little guidance. The dish combines fresh grapes of the season with Melissa’s ready-to-eat Steamed Lentils, along with a short list of other fresh support ingredients. Fresh and hearty, this dish is guaranteed to pair nicely with whatever is sizzling on the barby, be it hot dogs, chicken or meat!
The short prep time of this three-step recipe and the fact that it is best served slightly chilled really makes this the perfect picnic table fare. It’s really too hot to be fussing around in the kitchen, so prep needs to quick and easy. In fact, to insure that the supervising adult can also enjoy the summer evening around the barby, gather your kitchen helpers about an hour before main course goes on the grill. This will allow for some quality time for the dish to chill in the ‘frig--and the supervising adult to chill out--before serving.
The tasks of halving the grapes, slicing the green onions and dicing up an avocado in Step #1 gives an older child a chance to practice a few rudimentary knife skills without much precision required. Still, whenever a sharp knife is involved it should always be accompanied by close adult supervision. At the same time a younger helper can be included in the process in Step #2 by being tasked with tearing up both the spinach and mint leaves into smaller pieces with his or hers hands, as well as measuring out the pine nuts and lemon juice.
The next steps would be to take 45 minutes to cook, drain and cool a batch of lentils from dried to editable. Instead, your helpers can combine all the ingredients that they have prepped into one large bowl and simply fold in the contents of two packages of Melissa’s Steamed Lentils from box to bowl until gently but thoroughly combined with the rest of the ingredients. Pop the bowl in the ‘frig until ready to serve. Paper plates further reduce kitchen time in August. Note: the measures in the recipe will provide a family of four with a tasty side dish to go with that backyard summer dinner. However, I doubled these measures so there would be leftovers and discovered that the flavors definitely improved overnight. This dish also makes for a great standalone, no-prep lunch!
1 cup green seedless grapes, halved
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
1 Haas avocado, diced
1 cup baby spinach, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh mint leave, chopped
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 packages Melissa’s Organic Steamed Lentils
Salt and pepper, to taste
What the kids can do:
Step 1: For an older child with some basic knife skills – cut the grapes in half, chop the green onion and dice the avocado.
Step 2: For a younger child, tear the baby spinach and mint into smaller pieces, and measure out the pine nuts and lemon juice.
Step 3: Combine all the ingredients in Steps 1 and 2 in a large salad bowl, then gently fold in the Lentils, season with salt & pepper, and mix thoroughly. Chill before serving.
What the supervising adult should do:
Always supervise a child using a sharp very closely. The youngest helper may need some help measuring out the pine nuts and lemon juice. Show them the different markings on a tablespoon and teaspoon. Enjoy the evening with your family of cooks!