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Simple Sides: Potatoes & Spinach

By Dennis Linden

A versatile, nutrient-packed side dish that combines the comfort food creaminess of a mashed potato with the peppery flavor of fresh spinach.
Image of Potatoes Popeye
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.
Image of recurring kidsMany 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 children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

Here’s a very simple and absolutely yummy recipe that a child of any age can have some fun making for the family table. Plus, with smart ingredient choices, this stuffed potato has half the calories of most cheesy-greasy versions of this recipe. Here’s a versatile, nutrient-packed side dish that combines the comfort food creaminess of a mashed potato with the peppery flavor of fresh spinach, which will match up deliciously with most meat, fish or chicken main courses.
Image of potatoes & spinach
While this recipe can be done using an oven entirely, a lot of time can be saved by baking the potato the first time in a microwave. No doubt slow-cooking is the best and should be emphasized to your young kitchen helpers in these times of so many fast foods options. However, in this case the first bake is really just preparing the potato to be an ingredient i.e. softening the potato. It simply makes no sense to use a whole hour for something that can be done in 12 minutes.

Conversely, take the 15 minutes of oven time to finish the dish. Explaining to your aspiring cooks that the oven will meld the flavors of the ingredients together at a slower, more even pace than the micro. The take-away culinary lesson for your kids: There is a difference between zapping ingredients and slow-cooking flavors into a dish! Both have a place in the modern kitchen.

Potatoes Popeye
Serves 6

3 Russet Potatoes
½ cup Non-Fat Milk
½ cup Tub-Style Light Cream Cheese (about 4 ounces)
Image of Ingredients
1¾ cups Shredded Reduced-Fat Sharp White Cheddar Cheese, about 7 oz., divided
½ Red Onion, chopped
¼ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
1 bunch Fresh Spinach, trimmed, then steamed, drained, and squeezed dry
½ cup Vegetable or Chicken Broth

What the kids can do:

Measure out all ingredients before starting.

Pierce each potato in three places with a fork.

Place the potatoes in the microwave and cook on high power for 6 minutes.

Turn potatoes over, then cook for 6 more minutes. (Time may vary depending on microwave).

When the potatoes are soft, remove from the microwave and let cool to room temperature.
Image of cooked potatoes with scooped out centers
Cut each potato in half lengthwise (under adult supervision).

Scoop out most of the pulp into a large mixing bowl, leave a ¼ inch of potato with shell.

Mash pulp with a potato masher.

In a separate bowl combine the milk and cream cheese with a whisk, then add to mashed potatoes.
Image of stirring potato mixture
Add 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, onion, salt, pepper, and spinach--stir this mixture well.

Spoon potato mixture into shells; sprinkle each half with 2 tablespoons cheddar cheese.

Place stuffed potatoes back in the microwave just to heat up.

What the supervising adult should do:

Every microwave is a little different so oversee the cooking time of the potatoes. While the potatoes are cooking, steam the spinach with a little broth for extra flavor; the spinach and potatoes can cool at the same time. There is very little in the recipe a child cannot accomplish without help. Depending on the age and knife skills of your helpers, you might want to chop the onion and slice the cooled potatoes in half. The kids can certainly scoop out the potatoes into a bowl, measure and add the rest of the ingredients and reload the potatoes.
Image of cooked potatoes with cheese and spinach mixture
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