teaching kids to cook and instantly oatty

When a friend who works as Director of a local cooking school asked me to teach a class on cooking with kids, I thought it sounded like fun. When she asked if I’d bring my 10-year-old daughter on board to “assist,” the deal got even sweeter. I loved the idea of sharing deLizious with my kids.

In planning the class, I thought about foods that were winners with my girls as well as dishes they might have a hand in preparing. In the end, the menu featured one recipe for each mealtime (breakfast, lunch, supper) with the lunch dish able to play snack role as well.

First up: Fast Food-Style Chicken Tenders, seen here before at foodforfun. Next was Asian Noodle Bowl, made from cooked whole wheat spaghetti tossed with an Asian dressing (6 Tbsp orange juice, 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 3/4 tsp grated fresh gingerroot for 8 ounces dried pasta).

Students, ranging in age from 4ish to 10ish along with accompanying adults, took bowls of dressed noodles and tossed in favorite veggies from a colorful produce buffet that had been prepped before class. Whether tossing in snowpeas, broccoli, and bell pepper or just carrots (that would be my girl), kids were adding veggies they’d eat and making a (healthy) dish they were excited about. Besides this being a do-able lunch for school, it could also be packed as snack.

With supper and lunch/snack down, we moved on to breakfast. I’d found a fun recipe in ChopChop magazine (loving CC–a cooking mag for kids that keeps things simple without dumbing down) for DIY Instant Oats that struck me as brilliance. With all the other make-a-mixes out there, why not one for instant oats? True, old-fashioned rolled oats don’t take terribly long to cook: A hot bowl of steaming oats is never more than 20 minutes away and setting them up in a slow cooker the night before makes mornings even easier.

But how about this: Grind a cup of oats along with a handful of dried fruit, tablespoon or so of brown sugar, and small amounts of ground cinnamon and salt to powder in a blender or food processor, then add another 2 cups oats for a quick pulse. The result? A shelf-stable mix you combine 1:1 1/2 with boiling water (1/2 cup oat mixture to 3/4 cup water) for a quick-fix breakfast. It tastes way better than packaged with hearty, fresh, real flavors and has a great chew. The bowl of oats you want to fill your kid’s (or your own) tummy with in the morn? Just seconds away if you have this mix in your cupboard. And as with the noodle bowls, there was a topping buffet for this recipe, too: unsweetened baking cocoa, nuts, dried and fresh fruit, yogurt, nut butters, honey, maple syrup. (“Kid like choices, mom” was one sage bit of advice my daughter had given me as we planned this class.)

Class ended and we were on our way home before I realized I’d taken no photos. My mind had been on wanting the class to go well and not so much on capturing the food on camera. To rectify, I made myself a batch of DIY oats today, snapping photos as I went. I’d like to write that my daughters helped me, but reality had them working on homework and cleaning their room instead. But it’s good to know I have recipes to share for those times when we all have time to play together in the kitchen. And even if they didn’t have a hand in making this batch of DIY oats, they’ll be enjoying them for many breakfasts to come.

ingredients in the food processor, ready to rock

ready to rock

ground to a powder

ground to a powder

more oats added, pulsed

more oats added, pulsed

containered up, ready for action

containered up, ready for action

clockwise l to r dreamy instant oatmeal toppings: raspberries, cocoa powder, honey, mini 'mallows, almonds, maple syrup, chia seeds, coconut

dreamy instant oatmeal toppings clockwise l to r : raspberries, cocoa powder, honey, mini ‘mallows, almonds, maple syrup, milk, chia seeds, coconut

roasted squash photo shoot

This morning, a friend and I joined up for a photo shoot for my new website. (Stay tuned!) I had brought a box of assorted produce in hopes of having plenty on hand for whatever happened once the camera started shooting.

With Rachel snapping shots, I chopped red bell pepper, carrot, and asparagus and tossed them into a bowl of couscous, then drizzled all with a bit of olive oil for a colorful salad. A loaf of pumpkin-pecan bread was sliced alongside a lovely fan of thinly sliced apple. Winter squash soup sat next to a tossed green salad and a small bowl of braised Brussels sprouts.

The most fun was finding a photo from Seven Fires, a cookbook I’d flipped through while posing. The charred and stuffed squash was a stunner, and I was lucky enough to have most of the ingredients on hand. We filled the squash cavity with braised Brussels spouts (easy to make–sauté sprouts in olive oil, add a bit of salt and a smaller bit of sugar; cook, stirring, until browned), arugula, and crumbled feta cheese. (Reveal: we had to dab the filling with a bit of yogurt to get a similar effect as I hadn’t brought feta.) The squash looked good on camera and served as a tasty (and healthy!) lunch later on.

roasted squash stuffed with arugula, Brussels spouts, and “feta”

I’m hoping we get some great shots for my site, though there’s a lesson in what we were able to pull together. With a handful of ingredients, we assembled attractive, healthy, and tasty meals ON THE FLY. Neither one of us came to the session with recipes. We hadn’t mulled over how to assemble what we’d be shooting. Yet between the two of us, we created good-looking meal options.

This brings me to my Kitchen Philosophy. Putting together healthy and tasty meals is possible, even on the busiest of nights. There’s so much emphasis put on recipes–my career, in fact, is devoted to recipe developing, testing, and editing. And recipes absolutely serve a purpose even if they’re used solely for inspiration.

But anyone putting meals on the table night after night doesn’t always have the luxury of following recipes. A better plan is to have a pantry full of amazing foods (fresh produce, fantastic cheese, great spices, good breads and grains–whatever you and yours like to eat most) and a good sense of how to throw things together. This “good sense” comes only with practice. Which means you’ll have to take some chances and make some mistakes. But even the chances and mistakes can be fun And the reward–amazing meals that you pulled together solo–is well worth it.