This post is about something I'm very passionate about; therefore, it is long, a bit silly at times, and as heartfelt as can be. The fact that you're reading this right now means the world to me.
When I think about my family, food is always one of the first things to come to mind. And when I think of food? It's impossible not to think of my family! Many of our baby foods were lovingly batch-cooked in my mother's kitchen and we were raised to like, and eventually love, fruits and veggies. No meal was complete without one or more varieties and, when necessary, my mom would do anything and everything to appease the varied [yet sometimes irrational!] palates of her four picky kiddos. Though she humored us by whipping up our favorite dishes on repeat, her arsenal of colorful meals was absolutely endless. She would experiment in the kitchen like a mad scientist in a lab and come up with the most amazing dishes without a recipe in sight. Because [like most children] we were all as different as night and day, she had more than a few tricks up her sleeve.
To encourage us to try new vegetables, she would give our meals fun names while also educating us on what we were eating and why. Spinach was served freshly-wilted with a teeny bit of butter, garlic, and salt and was dubbed "Pop-eye's Spinach." We adored the cartoon, and when mom taught us spinach would help us to grow up smart and strong like Pop-eye, we were all over that stuff like white on rice, usually stopping mid-bite to flex our giant muscles. To this day, my brother can't get within two feet of spinach without singing the Pop-eye theme song. And, as a true testament to her efforts, every single one of us has adored spinach since childhood.
When we went through our dreaded "No foods may touch each other!" phase, my mom was hot on our heels. She spaced our foods at proper distance for the most part, but would still periodically mix a medley of veggies together [sometimes even mincing or pureeing them to prevent small fingers from picking out the good stuff], calling it "Alligator Stew." Oh yes, that was absolutely a song. From Barney. That we sang into the ground. Why I never inherited her saint-like patience I'll never know, but we sang... and we ate... and she smiled.
As and added bonus to her methods, we were always allowed to mix, stir, and taste ingredients as they went into our meals. I grew bolder as the years passed, and would try to help myself to the veggies while they simmered away on the stove. It's not a memory easily forgotten when you have scars to remember it by ;) I never was very patient.
Before I knew it, I was old enough to stop burning myself [for the most part] and start helping with more of the prep-work. Stuffed Mushrooms were one of the first dishes my mom taught me how to make. I vaguely remember thinking they were "Snuffelupagus Mushrooms" and had. to. have. them. Writing this is making me very much aware that my history with veggies is strongly linked with television characters. Pop-eye, Barney, Sesame Street, and Disney Movies aplenty all played a part in developing my family's healthy eating habits.
side note: if only companies were banned from using cartoon characters to sell pop-tarts and sugary cereals and instead slapped Spongebob and Mickey Mouse stickers on fresh, frozen, and canned fruit and vegetables instead. Some do... More should.
As for mealtime, we always ate dinner together. Most families reflect on a day's events, but with four rambunctious elementary schoolers present, it was more of a contest of sorts. The goal was to comically one-up each other until someone snorted so abruptly that milk shot out of their nose. I had a flair for the dramatic and usually wound up rolling on the floor laughing and, yes, I've had my fair share of milk-related casualties. Money was tight and my parents worked around-the-clock, often taking on 11-hour shifts apiece, but dinnertime... that was our time.
I've gotten gloriously off-track again, haven't I? I'm certain I could go on for days but, in an attempt to make a long story a little less Illiad-esque, I'll wrap things up a bit. Early education of healthy eating habits was essential to my development and also my love of produce. It's because of this that I later went on to study Dietetics, volunteered and worked alongside the Department of Education School Lunch and Breakfast program, and became a Nutrition Educator for families at WIC. It's even why I blog. I live for this stuff! Sweets were still consumed and never off-limits, though desserts were not a nightly expectation or occurrence. We were picky, and opinionated, and at times a royal pain in the butt, but thanks to my mom, the focus was always the food. And family.
Thanks mom =)
For a second year in a row, Hidden Valley is partnering with the American Culinary Federation to host this nationwide fundraiser to help parents and children come together with chefs and schools to learn how simple, good food can help us grow happy and healthy minds and bodies. October 15-19th, chefs all over the US will host fundraisers to help create more resources for nutrition education programs that will encourage healthier eating in families and communities across the country. They aim to encourage what I've been shouting from the rooftops since starting this blog: Veggie Love! We want you to eat your veggies, love your veggies and share the veggie love with those around you. Locations for the program span from coast to coast. Here's a list of participating communities -- Get involved!
Tomorrow [October 16th] the Chef & Child Foundation will be celebrating Childhood Nutrition Day to encourage community involvement and raise awareness for the importance of childhood nutrition education and healthy eating. Hidden Valley put together a toolkit of activities for children that will help to further educate them on healthy eating habits. These can be done at home, in the classroom, within childcare establishments, and in many community settings. One activity, adorably dubbed "It's Not Easy Being Green!", allows them to sample three delicious greens while they learn about taste, texture, and the nutritional benefit of eating their greens. My favorite, "The Rainbow Taste Test," teaches kids about all the wonderful flavors of different colored fruits and vegetables and how much to strive for daily. It's colorful, hands-on, and a truly memorable experience for kiddos. Pair it with this Fruit + Veggie Eater Meter and add to their education with fun activities and goals.
|click for the full PDF|
Want to keep the rainbow going? Here are a few veggie-centric recipes that have been kid-tested & approved by some of my amazing readers: