Pam Koch of Teachers College Columbia University recently directed The Kids Cook Monday pilot program, a family cooking class developed with the Mondays Campaign (more info can be found at www.thekidscookmonday.org). Research suggests that kids who eat dinner with their families are more likely to succeed in school and stay off drugs; and Koch has found that children are more likely to eat food that they helped prepare.
Koch says that while any day of the week is a great time to cook together, doing so on Mondays starts the week off on the right foot. Here, she shares her tips on making the most of mealtime.
1. Involve kids from the get-go
Bring your children with you to pick up fresh ingredients at a farmer’s market or community garden when possible. This way, they can learn about the foods they eat and see where they come from. Small acts, like growing herbs on your windowsill, can also teach children about locally sourced foods. Involving young ones in the process from the beginning is especially beneficial to parents of picky eaters.
2. Choose age-appropriate tasks for little chefs
With parental supervision, kids can take turns chopping (with plastic knives, fingers folded in, in a sawing motion) and using blenders and food processors. And, when the children are old enough, being allowed to man the stove can greatly boost their confidence. “Stirring something definitely makes them feel very much a part of [the process],” Koch says.
3. Make eating together a priority
“I think if kids know that when the family sits down and eats together, that’s going to be where they will have a voice, that ends up indirectly making them enjoy the process and probably more likely to stay — especially if they were involved in some aspect of seeing it growing, shopping for it, helping to cook it and then seeing the eating as a very positive family time,” she adds.
Cheese-It Chicken with Cranberry Green Beans
Your kids will love crushing cheese crackers into tiny pieces as a fun way to bread chicken before it’s baked. Green beans and carrots are steamed and tossed with cranberries and roasted garlic for a deliciously sweet and savory side dish. This recipe comes to us from Amy, The Gourmand Mom.
For the roasted garlic:
2 cloves garlic
a drizzle olive oil
For the Cheese-It Chicken:
4 chicken breasts
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cheese crackers, crushed
salt and pepper
For the Cranberry Green Beans:
2 cups green beans and wax beans
1½ cups baby carrots
¹/³ cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons butter OR 3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
To roast the garlic:
Adult: Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Place the unpeeled garlic on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the garlic becomes soft and fragrant. Set aside to cool until you make the Cranberry Green Beans.
To make the Cheese-It Chicken:
Adult: Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
Kid: Place the cheese crackers in a zip log bag and shut securely. Crush with your fists or a kitchen mallet until the crackers are the size of breadcrumbs.
Together: Dip the seasoned chicken breasts into the beaten egg mixture. Then press the chicken into the cracker crumbs until thoroughly coated. Place the coated chicken into a baking dish.
Reminder: All cooks should take care to avoid touching surfaces and their mouths when handling raw meat and eggs. Everyone should wash their hands with soap and warm water afterward the chicken is in the oven.
Adult: Place the baking dish into the oven. Cook for about 35 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken.
To make the Cranberry Green Beans:
Adult: Steam the beans and carrots for about 5-8 minutes, or until they’re cooked to desired tenderness.
Kid: Squeeze the cooled roasted garlic out of its skin. Chop the ends off of the steamed beans and carrots. The steamed vegetables will be soft enough so that a kid-friendly plastic knife can be used if necessary.
Adult: Melt the butter or warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the roasted garlic and stir until well combined.
Together: Add the beans, carrots, dried cranberries and chives to the pan. Toss to coat with the roasted garlic butter or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To complete the dish:
Together: Serve 1 chicken breast with ¼ of the cranberry green beans and carrots per plate and enjoy!