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Simple Sides: Color April Strawberry!

Image of Strawberries & Quinoa with Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette
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 can adult attention might be especially needed.
Image of Recurring 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 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.

With the exception of those allergic, I sincerely doubt that there is a child on this planet who could resist a bowl of fresh strawberries…or even one strawberry, for that matter! As I have suggested in past blogs—to perk a child’s interest in cooking a recipe needs to be engaging, and pairing ingredients in seemingly odd combinations is one way to get that attention. So, here’s a salad-like side dish that combines quinoa and strawberries with a few flavor supports, including a simple vinaigrette that your helpers may want to remember for use to garnish all kinds of other salad dishes.

Strawberries are good for whole body health. They are packed with vitamins, fiber, and are particularly high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols. The fruit contains no sodium, fat, or cholesterol. Just one serving—about eight strawberries—provides more vitamin C than an orange! April brings on the first harvests out of California with any volume as evidenced by the promotional displays and pricing offered at most retailers this month. It ain’t all just showers, you know – it’s also tubs ‘n tubs of beautiful, lusciously sweet strawberries (on sale!)

One note of caution: Though this recipe calls for 12 ounces of fresh strawberries, it would be more practical to double that amount to account for this ingredient’s susceptibility to mysteriously “disappear” – one berry at a time—during preparation. (Small but quick hands are suspected.) In fact, the supervising adult might want to pre-measure and set aside the amount needed for this recipe to avoid this expected shrinkage.

Melissa’s Quinoa is a great grain for a beginner cook. It only takes about 10 minutes to cook up fluffy. Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wa’, is a gluten-free alternative to other, more starchy whole grains. Although it often occupies a similar role to grains in dishes, quinoa is actually a seed from the same family as beets, chard and spinach. It is high in protein as well as an important nutritional source, containing all nine of the basic essential amino acids the body’s metabolism requires to run smoothly.

In fact, this seemingly simple recipe contains many basics culinary tasks that we all had to learn by doing for the first time. Chopping up of the onion and berries, the quick cooking process of the quinoa, measuring out all the ingredients and even making a vinaigrette for the first time – these small tasks build confidence in the kitchen without being too tedious. Serve this dish at room temperature (preferred) or chilled. It will keep in the refrigerator for three days; after an extensive taste test, this writer can attest to the leftovers being a great lunch (or late-night nibble) directly from fridge to fork without any fuss.

Strawberries & Quinoa with Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Image of Ingredients for Strawberries & Quinoa with Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1½ cup chopped fresh strawberries 
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled herbal feta or feta
1/4 cup chopped red onion

What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee the cooking of the quinoa and well as the chopping of both the strawberries and onion. If your helpers differ in age, make it a teamwork thing: An older child does the knife work, then hands off the chopped-up items to a younger helper to measure.

What the kids can do:
Image of cooked quinoa in a pot
Bring 2 cups water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add quinoa. Cook until water has been absorbed, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir to fluff up. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
Image of Dressing ingredients
Combine olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl until blended.
Image of quinoa salad
Transfer the quinoa into a large salad bowl, then add in the strawberries, pine nuts, feta and red onion. Now gently toss with vinaigrette until all is evenly coated. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature or chilled.
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