It’s back-to-school time! A meal that is quick and easy to prepare and can be enjoyed by the entire family scores an “A” in my book.
How did I spend my summer? I went back to school, not as a student but as a teacher. I’ve been working closely with schools throughout the state on behalf of the Department of Education’s Project PA. The goal of the culinary workshops is to provide food-service operators with the tools that are needed to cook healthy recipes from scratch.
Speaking as both a dad and a chef, I’ve come to realize there’s a correlation between entertainment and food. I’ve noticed that the kid-friendly animated films that hit it big at the box office are those that also appeal to adults. The same can be said of food. In my opinion, the healthy recipes that work best are those that appeal to the adults who are preparing them.
Putting an emphasis on healthy food is definitely good for students, but like manners and discipline, it needs to start at home. Kids are kids: They’re not going to suddenly become fans of things they’ve never heard of, let alone tasted before.
Parents can support their children’s schools by doing their homework. Take your kids along to a farmer’s market or a grocery store. Treat things you introduce to your menus as grand adventures and not something dreadful. Enforce the “must taste” rule. Have them help you in the kitchen. Take them to ethnic restaurants on occasion. By doing your homework, you are providing your children with palates that will embrace the menus that are being prepared in our schools. I’m sharing a few recipes that fit that bill quite nicely.
Tabbouleh is full-on grains! But grains don’t have to be heavy. In fact, tabbouleh – a classic Middle Eastern grain salad made from cracked wheat, or bulgar – is one of the lightest and brightest things you can eat. Whole grains, and products made with a substantial amount of whole grains, are high in fiber and protein. Since they are less refined than say white rice, white bread, or other more-refined, grain-based products, whole-grain foods are less soluble, a little slower to digest, and therefore make it through your digestive system a little better, rather than sticking around only to pack it on! Any time that you can swap out non-whole grain products with made-from-whole-grain products, you are doing alright. But, if you can swap out made-from-whole-grain products with actual whole grains, now we are talking.
Combine bulgar with tons of fresh parsley, mint, tomato, cucumber, some spices, lemon and olive oil to make a salsa-like dish that is a truly refreshing and super-healthy. Add a piece of Omega 3-rich fish, such as tuna (as seen here), salmon or even sardines, and you will have created quite the dynamic duo.
Beans and legumes are vital to a healthy diet. There are some really easy-to-prepare members of this category that will surprise even the most die-hard carnivore. Lentils are one such legume. They require no soaking, take 20-30 minutes to cook and come in several different colors, each with their own nuances. They can be cooked until rich and creamy or left more al dente. They can be taken in all sorts of directions by using different vegetables, herbs and spices and can be made in a big batch, divided, cooled and reheated very successfully.
One of the greatest things about beans and legumes is the healthy, non-animal-derived, cholesterol-free protein source they provide for pennies on the dollar, as compared to meat-based proteins. Southwest-style lentils are a case in point. Smoky, spicy and truly satisfying, here they are used to create a chili-like dish, thanks to the use of sautéed onions and peppers, cumin, toasted New Mexico chiles and cilantro.
For starters, who doesn’t like a good meatball? You’re probably used to the typical ground beef-type, or perhaps a combination of pork, veal and beef. But what about a ground turkey, wild rice and kale meatball that’s served with tomato sauce and is mellowed by a touch of white beans? That may sound pretty grown up, but these are exactly the types of delicious options that schools are starting to embrace.
Ground turkey has less saturated fat than beef, making it a good choice for meatballs. Cooked brown rice, instead of the typical bread or bread crumbs, acts as a healthy panada, trapping the wee amount of remaining fat that is trying to escape as the meat cooks, thereby keeping the meatballs moist. Tuscan kale adds awesome color, fabulous flavor and an undeniable nutritional boost. The sauce is simply made of quality crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil, with white beans swirled into the mix.
I may sound like a broken record, but nothing beats a fresh fruit salad for dessert, breakfast or really as part of any other meal. The key is that the fruit be ripe and juicy! This is easy to achieve when you utilize fruit that is sourced locally. Because it doesn’t have to travel far, local fruit can be left to ripen more before it’s harvested. On the other hand, fruit that comes from afar has to be harvested before it fully ripens because that’s the only way that it will make it here without getting destroyed. As a result, it’s rarely as sweet as fruit that came from your own backyard. Don’t worry about which fruit goes with what. You’ll be amazed at how well things naturally go together and how many different combinations you can come up with.
Make it your goal to incorporate an assortment of fruit into your fruit salad. Varying vitamins and minerals define each color; the more colorful the combination, the more nutrients will be represented