Packing lunches with your kids

"I never planted my first herb garden until the age of 22, and I am determined to help her find her 'culinary soul' at a much younger age" says Chef Jon, who was born in England, but now calls Florida home. "Mei loves picking her fresh herbs and smelling them. Her favorites are cilantro and basil. But she pulls a face (makes a face) at oregano."

Working together on an herb or vegetable garden is one way to get children interested in food and its preparation, the chef says. Cooking together, even packing their own lunches, is another way to teach children good eating habits and to spend time together as a family.

"Kids are 20 percent on the population, but 100% of the future, let's give them a healthier one," Chef Jon says. "All of us have some sort of childhood cooking memory. Maybe it was helping your Mum make dinner in the back kitchen, pitching in on family dinners or the first time dad let you near his grill to turn a burger. Go on, let the wheels turn and reminisce just for a moment, you'll find some of your memories."

Over the last 20 years, the world has changed a lot, he adds. "Between football games, convenience foods, drive-through fast food and games consoles, the idea of "preparing a home made dinner" daily has almost become an archaic notion. Ovens are turned on more to heat up frozen pot roast, Lasagna and other dismal meals than to make wonderful chocolate-chip cookies that kids love. What happened to family dinners? Where it wasn't just about the food but quality time at the dinner table with loved ones?"

Jon would like to bring back "homemade food," which he says has been lost. "For me as a child it was of the greatest way for granny, mum and I to connect, to communicate and spend time together with no distractions other than mixing bowls and saucepans. Those are probably my most vivid and heart warming memories of my childhood – smells, tastes and sounds of a working kitchen. There was always a bonus in the end when we got to taste our creations. We cooked, laughed, joked, cleaned, ate and laughed some more,"

Chef Jon suggests making these easy recipes with your family. You'll have fun while giving them some healthy treats in their lunchboxes.

"Yo-Yo-Yogurt Dip" with Carrots & Apples

  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 medium apple, sliced and 1/2 cup baby carrots

Combine the yogurt, cinnamon and honey in your container and mix thoroughly. Pack the apples and carrots into another container. The honey will make your dip sweet while the cinnamon will add some lovely color and flavor.

"Presto Pesto Pasta Salad"

  • 3 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, washed & dried
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cooked whole wheat penne pasta

Have your child place all ingredients except cheese into blender or food processor. Teach your child how to process the mixture until fairly smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. This will show them the wonder of using blenders to create foods. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Now pour in hot cooked penne pasta and toss. The hot pasta will heat up the sauce. This can eaten for dinner and it is really fab for the child's lunch. Add chopped chicken or other meats if you wish.

"You Are a Star Fruit Salad"

  • 1 whole star fruit, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup seasonal mixed fruit

Star fruit, when cut across shows a 5-pointed (sometimes 6-point) star shape, hence the name, "star fruit." Kids will love sharing this with their friends. The idea behind this is for kids to make 2x 1 cup portions, and share one with their friend or teacher. Place 1 1/2 cup seasonal mixed fruit in two 1 cup smart portion containers. Top it with a line of sliced star fruit that will surprise the receiver with a row of stars when they open the container! (Feel free to add a "You-Are-A-Star Fruit Salad" note to the gift)

"Pesto Pita Pocket"

  • 1 oz raisins and dried cranberries
  • 2 oz peanut butter
  • 1/2 pita pocket
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 slices lean turkey or ham
  • 2 slices low fat cheddar cheese, cut up
  • celery sticks

Place raisins and cranberries, and celery sticks on smaller compartment. Place peanut butter in small container.

Stuff pita pocket with spinach, turkey and cheese using larger compartment of lunch chiller. Add a little pesto that you made for the in the pita pocket. Kids can enjoy ants on a log with the celery, raisins, and peanut butter. They can even have red ants using cranberries.

What your children can learn from cooking with you!

Social Benefits

  • Dinner conversation can help expand a child's vocabulary. (According to researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education)
  • Kids feel like they are accomplishing something and contributing to the family.
  • Parents get to spend quality time with their kids.
  • Kids aren't in front of the TV or computer while they're cooking.
  • Learning to cook is a skill your children can use for the rest of their lives.
  • They are to respect their bodies by having an awareness of what they are putting into it.
  • Positive cooking experiences can help build self-confidence.
  • Eating out less (therefore spending less)
  • Involving kids in preparing meals is a stepping-stone to getting them to appreciate family meals. Because of challenging work, school, social and sports schedules, families rarely have time to share mealtimes together.
  • Promotes teamwork.
  • Experiencing the joys of giving and sharing.

Nutrition Benefits

  • Parents serve as role models, letting their children observe them enjoying healthful foods.
  • Offering healthier, low-calorie foods as well as less processed food.
  • Kids generally aren't eating junk food when they're cooking a meal at home.
  • When they are exposed to new tastes and textures early on in life, they are more likely to have a diverse palate as an adult.
  • Parents can ensure their kids are getting enough of their daily nutritional needs through cooking at home with them.

Education Benefits

  • Encourages a sense of creativity and expression through the "artwork" (food) they are creating. For example decorating a cake or arranging ingredients on a pizza.
  • Learn an appreciation of food, through smells, sounds, textures and tastes, especially if they have been part of making the meal.
  • Increasing manual dexterity and physical coordination.
  • Basic mathematics skills like counting , measuring.
  • Reading skills from reading recipes and directions
  • Science skills – observation abilities, understanding of time / temperature

Between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Unhealthy weight gain simply from poor diet and lack of exercise causes over 300,000 deaths every single year, costing society an estimated approximation $100 billion! These are scary numbers and scary times for our younger generation. When I visit schools and see children headed in this unhealthy direction, it affects me on a personal level because I have been down that road, therefore feel a strong need to take proactive action in bringing about change. We know the facts and figures, we know the dangers our children face – so do you think together, we can really try do something about it?

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