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Simple Sides: Butternut Squash ‘n Sweet Red Grapes!

By Dennis Linden

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.

Cookin' with the Kids

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 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.

Here’s a delicious side dish that the whole family can enjoy preparing together the next time pork or roasted chicken is on the dinner menu. The fall harvest provides the key ingredients for this tasty recipe, though the preparation and cooking time is sped up quite a bit by using one of Melissa’s most popular products, Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash. This pre-cooked iconic squash of the season is combined with the last and sweetest of September’s fresh grape harvest – an odd couple that actually complement each other perfectly on the plate! This is a very simple recipe with no knife work necessary, so even your youngest kitchen helper can get involved!

Some basic culinary lessons for a young sous chef also come along with this easy to prep recipe. Starting with the cooking of the quinoa. Melissa’s package will produce about 4 cups of cooked quinoa; this recipe will need only two of those cups; still, cook up the whole package and use the leftovers for another recipe. While this grain is as simple as boiling water to prepare, your assistants should watch the pot closely so it gets removed from the flame immediately when all the broth has been absorbed to avoid a burnt pan bottom. Using broth instead of water will add a little more flavor to this relatively bland grain; save the Lemon-Herb packet in the package for another dish using the leftover 2 cups as the flavors are not a good match for this recipe. Quinoa is one of the only cereals that is considered a “complete source of protein” because it includes all nine essential amino acids. So efficient is the grain’s nutritional delivery that NASA even includes quinoa in their astronauts’ diet in space! In fact, your kids would be much better off developing a taste for quinoa over rice, for instance, which loses nutritionally in a head-to-head comparison. And here’s a little trivia your kitchen crew might get a kick out of…quinoa comes from a plant called Goosefoot!

Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash is not only pre-cooked but also cut into convenient small cubes, which saves about 90 minutes of cooking and prepping, not to mention the worry of small hands having to deal with the relatively tough hard squash and sharp blades! None of this squash’s rich, sweet-nutty flavor is lost in this process – only the tedious preparation of a fresh squash. Your aspiring young chefs will have ample time in their own kitchens to master the preparation and cooking of a whole Butternut squash, but for now the idea is to inspire an interest in the culinary arts before being exposed to some of the more mundane sides of the cooking experience. Butternut squash is loaded with healthy carbohydrates, vitamins A and C as well as potassium.

The last and sweetest grape harvests of the season are one of the natural perks of September! After a whole summer of basking in the sun, the sugar content of these final picks of the season are at their peak. Assign your youngest sous chef the simple task of removing the grapes from their stems and then measuring out the two cups necessary for this recipe. That same youngest sous chef could also prepare the parsley with a pair of kitchen scissors rather than chopping with a knife. Both sounds like a small things, but for a young child getting to help out with a meal builds culinary interest and confidence as well as developing family bonds i.e. the family who cooks together, stays together! Enjoy this odd but so very delicious combo.

Quinoa, Butternut Squash & Sweet Grapes!
Servings 6

Ingredients for Quinoa, Butternut Squash & Sweet Grapes!


1 pkg Melissa’s Quinoa
2½ cups chicken broth
2 pkgs. Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash
2 cups Red Seedless Grapes
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
4 TBS fresh Parsley, chopped

What the kids can do:

Cook quinoa according to package instructions, substituting in chicken broth instead of water and without the seasoning packet.

Cook quinoa according to package instructions, substituting in chicken broth instead of water and without the seasoning packet. Once quinoa is done cooking, cool, measure out 2 cups for recipe and set aside. (Use remaining quinoa and seasoning packet in another dish).

Combine the grapes and butternut squash in a large mixing, then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Combine the grapes and butternut squash in a large mixing, then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer this mixture to a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread out evenly in single layer for roasting in the oven.


Assembly: In a large bowl combine the cooked quinoa, butternut squash, roasted grapes, goat cheese and parsley. Mix well – serve family style.

What the supervising adult should do:

This is a relatively simple dish to construct with no knife work involved. Once your assistants have prepared the grapes and butternut squash for the oven, roast for 20 minutes @ 425° or until grapes start to burst and wrinkle. This dish could be made ahead of time and re-heated as it holds well in the ‘frig.
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