Two Philly Chefs Share Their Recipes for Getting Kids to Eat Healthy
There’s no doubt that moms and dads want to serve their kids the healthiest foods possible, but getting kids to eat kale and whole grains can be a task akin to climbing Mt. Everest — in a blizzard. Before you pop those chicken nuggets in the microwave, check out these suggestions — and recipes! — from Philadelphia-area chefs who know a thing or two about feeding little kids.
Chef: Sarah Cullen, Program Manager for Vetri Community Partnership
Getting kids involved in meal prep — from start to finish — is a surefire way to up their interest in new and exotic foods. This philosophy is embraced by the Vetri Community Partnership, co-founded by renowned restaurateur Marc Vetri. The non-profit teaches children about the connection between eating well and feeling good through food education and hands-on experiences. “Studies have shown that kids who are involved in food preparation are much more likely to try the end result,” says Sarah Cullen, Vetri Community Partnership Program Manager. “Kids can get involved in all stages including menu planning, shopping, and cooking itself. Increasing kids’ agency in the kitchen cuts down on food conflict and boosts self-confidence.”
Cullen recommends whipping up a kale, squash, and chicken quesadillas with your crew because quesadillas are a familiar food to most kids and the recipe is easy enough for small hands to help.
Recipe: Kale, Squash, and Chicken Quesadillas
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup canola or olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small butternut squash
1 bunch kale
16-ounce bag shredded Monterey jack cheese
8 whole-grain 6-inch tortillas
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Lightly coat chicken thighs with oil, salt and pepper. Roast until internal temperature reaches 165°, about 20 minutes. Allow chicken to cool before chopping into bite-size pieces.
- Meanwhile, cut off 1-inch from both ends of the butternut squash. Discard ends. Use a peeler to remove outer skin from squash. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Working from the bottom, cut the squash into thin slices.
- Lightly coat butternut squash slices with oil, salt and pepper. Arrange on a sheet pan and roast at 350° until tender, about 20 minutes. When finished roasting, sprinkle with 4 ounces of cheese when finished roasting.
- Roughly chop kale, discarding thick or tough stems. In a large skillet, cook kale with a small amount of olive oil until wilted. Set aside.
- Layer kale, squash, chicken and cheese on one half of the tortillas, dividing evenly among 8 portions. Fold the other half of the tortilla over and press down. Arrange folded quesadillas onto a sheet pan and bake at 350° until cheese has melted.
- Remove from oven and cut into thirds. Serve hot.
Chef: Marlo Dilks of P’unk Burger and Slice
Marlo Dilks, owner of P’unk Burger and Slice, has four children and twins on the way. She opened P’unk Burger just so her family and those like it could enjoy burgers, fries, and shakes with healthy, organic options. Her pizzeria, Slice, also keeps nutrition in mind, including gluten-free pizza crusts and dairy-free cheese on the menu for customers with dietary restrictions.
Dilks understands the struggle of getting some kids to eat their veggies, so she found a way to “sneak” them into a pizza recipe. “Some kids just won’t eat things that ‘look’ healthy, so vegetables on pizza is out of the question. At home, I make a hidden healthy pizza because one of our girls is very picky,” Dilks says, explaining that she purees organic vegetables and organic plum tomatoes in a blender until smooth, which she uses as the sauce. “The vegetables don’t change the color or texture of the sauce, so the kids never know,” she says. “My favorites to use are spinach and mushrooms, but any veggies work.”
Dilks also encourages her kids to help in making the pie. She starts with 100 percent whole-wheat pizza dough. “I let the kids pick a topping that they like, to decorate the pizza into a smile face,” she says. “Nitrate-free sausage or organic chicken are great choices and add some extra protein.”
Recipe: “Hidden” Vegetable Pizza
1 – 2 cups organic plum tomatoes
Additional organic vegetables, to taste
1 prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
1 – 2 cups shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
Toppings, to taste
- Combine plum tomatoes and additional vegetables in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Roll out pizza dough so it’s nice and thin then top with pureed sauce.
- Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top, followed by toppings.
6. For crispy pizza, bake in oven at 600° for 15 minutes. If your oven doesn’t go that high, bake at 450° – 500° for 15 – 20 minutes.
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