Until they left for college, my three sons ate homemade meals with both parents every day at the dining table. Their friends, who were addicted to fast foods, would be amazed that our whole family ate meals together every day, as our modern hectic lifestyle has eroded family meal traditions. Now my sons cook family meals for their kids and for me too. Recent research shows that the family meal can uplift the mental and physical wellness of parents and kids. Families eat healthier, communicate better, and become closer. When parents set the example of enjoying eating healthy food, kids will too. When parents pay attention to family members, instead of watching TV, texting, or talking on the phone, they are more likely to discover what is happening in their child’s life at school, as kids will want to communicate in that safe environment. But unfortunately, in many households today, family meals happen only once or twice a week. Some families have two menus and different times for kids and adults.
The dining table is often the place where the mail is tossed, kids do homework, and assorted items get left. Kids enjoy decorating the table with fruit, nuts, or flowers, and the table gets magically tidied. Kids feel happy and proud to be able to set the table, with cups above the knives to the right of the plate and forks to the left on top of the napkin, especially when their efforts are appreciated or excused if they make a mess and have a do over to get it looking good.
Family mealtime can be made special by including the kids in the family meal planning. Even toddlers enjoy banging pots and pans with a wooden spoon! Kids can help planning a menu and making a shopping list. They learn to wash their hands, clean the produce, and keep the kitchen cleaner than when they started. Kids find that using a salad spinner is fun. Cooking helps kids with their math and reading skills. At the store, they learn what is organic, in season, and grown locally, by reading the food labels. They can read the recipe out loud and gather the ingredients, pots, and utensils needed for the meal. Depending on their age, they can measure, pour, stir, and grate the ingredients. Older kids can chop veggies and use the blender and food processor. They can preheat the oven, set the timer, and stir the pots, keeping pot handles turned inward. They can pick fresh herbs and veggies from the garden or windowsill. Family mealtime brings beauty, value, and meaning to everyday life for both parents and kids. Invite laughter, love, and luck to the table by breathing deep, thinking kind, grateful thoughts, and smelling the aromas of home. How we experience food in our homes and environment, changes our bodies and the metabolic process. This is the moment to create a special environment for ourselves and our loved ones.
Are tomatoes ready to harvest in your garden? Kids can make Gazpacho, a classic Spanish cool and refreshing soup to please the whole family. Pick organic veggies and herbs fresh from your backyard garden. Rough chop one large tomato, ¼ seeded Anaheim chili, ¼ pealed cucumber, ¼ yellow bell pepper, 2 slices red onion, 1 clove garlic, 3 fresh basil leaves and put in blender. Blend with ¼ tsp sea salt and 1/8 tsp cumin one minute. Pour over a cubed slice of day old organic whole grain bread, serves two.
Kids that have the gate open to healthy foods will eat healthier. When kids know where their food comes from, they will choose healthier foods. Visiting local organic farms, reading food labels at the store, and planting a backyard garden brings good food into the home. Kids will taste for themselves the joy of eating fresh, in season produce. By getting food from farmers who produce organic food, we support those who nurture the soil and take care of the environment. Kids can discover the artificial ingredients, preservatives, and additives in packaged food by comparing the food nutrition labels at the store. They can check labels for the USDA Organic seal and find milk brands that state on the container “from cows not treated with rBST” hormones. In the garden, kids can enjoy the beauty, smell, and feel of the fresh fruits and vegetables. When they touch the produce, they learn to recognize its freshness, ripeness, and texture. Organic whole grains, pasta, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, herbal teas, whole flour, dried beans, rolled oats, and popcorn can be stocked to create a healthy pantry. Kids in the kitchen get a sense of well being when they learn how to cook from a healthy pantry. A backyard or patio garden is the outdoor pantry, where food grown to perfect ripeness delivers the highest nutrition, beauty, and flavor.
Kids find it fun to grow tomatoes, like Gabrielle at the Thousand Oaks Community Garden. Tomatoes are easy to grow in the backyard garden, on a patio or balcony, are used in dishes internationally, and are excellent for our health. There are entire cookbooks devoted to tomatoes, as they are delicious fresh, cooked or dried, as beverages, appetizers, sandwich staples, soups, entrees and desserts. There are over 4,000 different kinds of tomatoes that can be grouped into four culinary groups: to slice, for sauces, to stuff, and small ones for salads. Tiny wild cherry tomatoes originated in the Andes Mountains in South America and spread to Mexico, where the Aztecs developed large yellow tomatoes. French settlers in New Orleans used red tomatoes to make ketchup, which now can be found in almost every kitchen in America. In 1897 Joseph Campbell introduced Campbell Tomato Soup, which has been so popular the can was immortalized by artist Andy Warhol and hangs in the New York Modern Art Museum. There is no doubt that the texture and flavor of organic home grown tomatoes fresh from the garden far surpass conventional tomatoes at the supermarket. Also local vine ripe tomatoes have shown in many studies to be significantly more nutritious. Tomatoes are filled with vitamin C, Vitamin A, beta-carotene (which reduces risk of certain types of cancer), lycopene (an antioxidant), flavonoids (an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory), B vitamins, potassium, iron, phosphorous, and is a rich source of fiber. A tomato a day keeps the doctor away!
Kids like nasturtiums because they are edible flowers that are easy to grow, beautiful to look at, quite delicious, and the perfect garnish for a kid’s party treat. Because bugs dislike the smell of nasturtiums and avoid anything growing around them, they are good companions to plant in your vegetable garden and grow lovely blossoms all summer long. They like full sun and grow well in pots for patio gardening. It will be six weeks before the flowers are ready to harvest. The peppery taste of nasturtiums gives a nice tang to salads, and the spicy blossoms make a beautiful presentation. Fill them with cream cheese and chopped nuts for an appetizer or use them as a garnish. Nasturtiums are rich in vitamin C and minerals. Both leaves and flowers are good to eat, and the more you pick them, the more they grow. Place these edible flowers as a topping and turn ordinary cupcakes and other desserts into beautiful treats. Serve immediately, nasturtiums wilt after an hour or two so eat them right away.
Kids love the excitement, the social activity, and the way their bodies feel after a game of organized sports. My three sons were in sports year round: soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, and water polo! A UCLA study has found that students who have an hour a day of moderate exercise had higher test scores than those who didn’t exercise. Being a team mom and scorekeeper meant bringing snacks and water to the practices and games among other duties. There are certain foods that help prepare kids for the exercise. The night before a game serve pasta with marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese, a green salad, and milk. For breakfast, kids can enjoy eating oatmeal with banana and cinnamon, whole wheat toast, and milk. An hour before the game give them lots of water and a snack like a banana, granola bar, yogurt, or graham crackers with peanut butter. During the game encourage the kids to keep hydrated drinking lots of pure water. After the game, refuel their energy and add antioxidant protection with orange slices, cranberry juice, some almonds and lots more water. To cut down on plastic bottles in the land fill, bring a large stainless steel thermos of filtered water and paper cups. The entire team benefits as you set a standard for healthy sports team snacks. What kids learn to eat when they are young, they carry with them throughout their life.
Kids love cheese sauce made with 2 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons butter put in a sauce pan to make a roux. Add 1 cup milk and stir constantly with a whisk until smooth, add 1 cup of shredded cheese, stirring until melted and pour over veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, bell pepper, and red onion. This makes a great sauce for the kid favorite Mac and Cheese mixed with a rainbow of veggies. The roux can also be used to make a stroganoff sauce. Sauté ½ pound of portabella mushrooms and ½ red onion in 3 tablespoons butter, add 3 tablespoon flour, when browned stir in 1 cup sour cream and ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley to pour over 8 ounces of noodles and steamed broccoli. For an Asian stir-fry, try a peanut sauce.Using a wok or skillet, sauté 1 cup of onion with a ¼ cup vegetable oil for about 5 minutes, add 2 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of minced ginger, and ½ a jalapeno pepper, with the seeds and membrane washed out and minced, cooking a 5 minutes more. Stir in 1 cup peanut butter, 1 ¼ cups water, ¼ cup soy sauce, 3 tablespoons honey, and top with fresh chopped basil. Pour over noodles and steamed veggies.