With back to school time fast approaching, parents will soon be confronted with preparing bagged lunches for children up to five days a week, contending with finicky eaters with penchants for one color foods, unhealthy fare or processed items. “Making nutritious lunches that combine healthy proportions of protein, complex carbs and fats can be challenging for parents, yet the process needn’t be as daunting as it is,” said Chef Rama Ginde, owner of WannaBee Chef cooking school and café, Culinary Institute of America graduate and certified Holistic Health Counselor “Color, texture and flavor can be used to create healthy, easy-to-prepare lunches that appeal to even the fussiest kids.”
Chef Rama offers parents tips on removing the dread from lunch and dinner making, especially for finicky eaters, and uses her cooking school in Cresskill to give parents and kids separate and joint cooking classes to bring the fun back into cooking, creating a clever way to expand kids’ palettes through hands-on action in the kitchen:
1. The Three Color Rule: Parents should use at least three colors in their child’s lunch every day. Some colorful foods include grapes, blueberries, watermelon, bananas, peppers and carrots. Eating at least three natural colors, aside from brown and white, can help a child get a fully balanced meal. Concealing nutrition in color-rich foods (like adding half an avocado or a handful of fresh kale to a morning fruit smoothie) is another nifty trick for beating the breakfast blues.
2. Be Creative: Lunch does not have to be deli meat on bread every day. To put some creativity into the meal, parents can make protein, texture and flavor packed wraps by using drained black beans, fresh corn niblets, salsa, shredded Jack and a few slices of turkey or chicken. Involving children in lunch making helps them be more invested in enjoying the end result. For kids who are more inclined to sweeter tastes, consider a whole grain wrap spread with almond butter, sliced banana and strawberries. Add a serving of Greek yogurt to add more protein to the mix.
3. Get Spicy: Spices are tasty and beneficial to one’s health thanks to their digestive properties. Apple pie spices, which span cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger can flavor a vitamin rich pumpkin and butternut squash soup served warm or cold. Apple sauce can be revved up with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Many spices contain vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron.
4. Get Crispy: Crunchy textures are favored by many kids who often seek them out in unhealthy fried chips. Switch to pita crisps or whole wheat pretzels to accompany ¼ cup of hummus, full of protein and healthy fats and add carrot and celery sticks. Mix it up with broccoli sticks on occasion or jicima slices. Dried fruit crisps or kale chips, taro chips and plaintain chips that are often baked with a misting of oil are also worthy of lunch bags.
5. Play Games: Kids should be involved in the meal planning process, starting from grocery shopping. To make it more exciting, parents can make a scavenger hunt with children while they shop around the store (challenges to find out how many types of lentils there are in the bulk foods aisle or which has more protein, goat’s or cow’s milk). Or, parents can have children look for a vegetable they would like for snack at school the next day or find an ingredient needed for dinner that night. Involving kids in menu planning is key to good eating.
6. Go Fun Size: Allowing kids to eat in a fun way can make any meal more enjoyable. To change things up from the usual routine, parents can make mini size dishes or use baby vegetables. Parents can pack chopsticks in the lunchbox for a fork-free way to eat food.
7. Fun Fondue: For children hesitant to try new fruits and vegetables, a flavorful dipping sauce will make it tastier to them. Cheese sauce can be used for vegetables like broccoli or yogurt dip for fruit. A classic combination is carrots and ranch dressing, which can be packed for a healthy snack. Tahini, pureed white bean and garlic, pesto and tzatziki are fine alternatives.
8. Come Together: Eating dinners as a family is very beneficial for children. It allows the family to bond by talking about each others’ days and creates a special time without any interruptions, like cell phones, TVs, and computers. It also gives parents an opportunity for positive reinforcement with children when they try a new food.
“It can be hard and time consuming to make healthy meals every day,” said Chef Rama. “It’s easier to give children money and tell them to buy lunch at school and then pick up take out on the way home, but many times these meals are unhealthy. Parents do not necessarily need to prepare lunch and dinner everyday, but their kids do need to know how to make healthier choices. Our after school kids’ camp gives children a hands-on approach to learning about portion sizes and balanced meals, while teaching them the basics of cooking and global cuisines. It is important to teach children cooking skills and healthy habits that they can use for the rest of their lives.”
About Chef Rama Ginde and WannaBee Chef
Owner and Chef Rama Ginde, 29, lives with her family in northern NJ. Chef Rama, of Indian descent, grew up in Puerto Rico, where she developed a strong passion for cooking from her mother, who exposed her to her native Indian food, Latin cuisine and other types of cuisines. Not only did Chef Rama cherish this special bonding time with her mother in the kitchen, she learned to appreciate the connection between food and culture, drawing her closer to her Indian roots. Besides spending time with her mother, Chef Rama was drawn to cooking as a means of serving others, enjoying the pleasure that a good, home-cooked meal brought to family and friends. In time, Chef Rama also began to view cooking as a form of art and took great pride in creating aesthetically appealing dishes.
Moving with her family to the New York City area in 1999 at age 17, Chef Rama went on to receive a bachelor's degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating from the CIA, Chef Rama took a restaurant management course at the French Culinary Institute and later became certified as a Holistic Health Counselor from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University's Teachers College. In addition, Chef Rama’s culinary training also includes work as a cook at Jean Georges, a supervisor at Thomas Keller's Bouchon and an assistant manager at Hyatt Group of Hotels.
WannaBee Chef, located at 18 Union Avenue in Cresskill, NJ and open Monday through Friday from 10AM-7PM and weekends for special events, is Bergen county’s premier cooking studio. Offering fun, inspiring basic skills and specialized classes for children, teens and adults, WannaBee Chef also provides a delicious array of prepared foods (ideal for lunch or dinner) and beverages, 500 calorie Bento box meals, boutique catering, farm-to-table events and classes. WannaBee Chef’s prepared foods are also sold at local farmers markets in northern NJ including: River Vale (Thursdays), Emerson (Sundays), Tenafly (Sundays), Fort Lee (Sundays) and Haworth (Tuesdays). For more information on WannaBee Chef, personal and group classes, summer camp, private events and parties, please visit www.wannabeechef.com or call 201-503-0335.