Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kids in the Kitchen

Ask any kid about his or her favorite snack food and you'll inevitably hear about some sort of junk food. Ice cream, cookies, chips and candy have forever been associated with the between-meal munchies. In an effort to encourage children to make smarter snack choices, the Junior League launched "Kids in the Kitchen", a nationwide event connecting inner-city kids with nutritionists and chefs in the name of healthy eating. Last week, I was honored to serve as the "guest chef" at the Bridgeport, Connecticut "Kids in the Kitchen", sponsored by the Junior League of Fairfield County, where I shared some simple recipes for nutritious snacks that didn't skimp on taste.

After a local dietitian explained the food pyramid and the importance of eating a balanced diet, it was my turn to put principle into practice. We started by preparing Ham & Cheese Pinwheels, using whole wheat tortillas, low-fat cream cheese, and low-fat deli ham. While most of the kids were familiar with tortillas, none of them had ever seen the whole wheat version. Skeptical as they may have been, they enthusiastically assembled and rolled their wraps, and I went around and cut them crosswise into "pinwheels". As the gobbled down their snack, I think most forgot they were even eating the "brown" tortillas, a few admitted that they liked them even better than the white flour ones.

Next we moved onto a sweet snack that still packed a healthy punch. While a few of the volunteers sliced up fresh apples, I whipped up a dip for the fruit which incorporated protein-rich walnuts and low-fat cream cheese . I sweetened the deal by adding some sugar and vanilla to the mix, and in no time the kids were enthusiastically digging in their apples. Anticipating that they’d love dipping, I’d planned another dip for the last snack. This dip was a savory one and used canned black beans, garlic, and jarred salsa --- a super simple combination using three ingredients most people have on hand at home. By mashing the beans with a fork (I couldn’t assume these kids had fancy food-processors), and stirring in the salsa and some chopped garlic, we created a creamy, low-fat dip with plenty of flavor. I set out bowls of baby carrots and pita chips alongside the bean dip, and it was immediately clear that the snack was a hit.

At the end of the presentation, the kids all went home with recipes for some new and easy snack foods, a green-grocery bag stuffed with more healthy goodies, and a belly full of healthy food. I was amazed that they were absolutely willing to try everything. I never heard one “ew”, “yuck” or “gross”. They were attentive, curious, and seemed genuinely happy to participate in the event, even though it was 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon. Hopefully they’ll go home and share what they learned with their families, and get more kids in the kitchen!

Ham & Cheese Pinwheels
Serves 4
4 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 – 10 inch whole wheat tortillas
4 slices deli ham (or turkey, roast beef, or salami)
Lay the tortillas on the counter. Spread half of the cream cheese on each tortilla, covering as much of it as you can.
Place 2 pieces of ham on each tortilla. Tightly roll up the tortilla into a log shape and cut off the ends. Cut each “log” into 8 pinwheel slices.

Apple Wedges with Creamy Walnut Dip
Serves 8
(This recipe was given to me by my friend Carolyn G..)

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup chopped walnuts
Apples, cut into slices
Mix cream cheese, sugars, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. Add the chopped nuts and serve with apple slices.
(NOTE: If you have a blender or food processor, you can use that to blend the ingredients)

Black Bean Dip
Serves 8
(This recipe is from my friend Sarah S., which was so many years ago she probably forgot she even gave it to me.)

1 can black beans
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½-3/4 cup tomato salsa
Drain the beans in a colander and rinse them thoroughly with water.
Place into a bowl, and using a fork or potato masher, mash all the beans into a paste.
Add garlic, salsa, and mix together.
Serve with raw veggies or pita chips.
(NOTE: If you have a blender or food processor, you can use that to blend the ingredients)


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