QUINCY -- All it took was a couple of bites for Brooklyn Mahsman to change her mind.
Convinced she didn't like red bell pepper, the fourth-grader tried it on a slice of homemade pizza – and found out it tasted good.
"Also I never thought I liked pepperoni," Brooklyn said. "Now I like it."
Trying new foods, and learning how to cook healthy foods, is a goal of the after-school cooking class at St. Peter School that complements efforts to offer healthier foods in the school cafeteria.
Fifteen students in K-3 and 13 in grades 4-8 spend alternate Wednesdays working with Evelyn Garrett, the school's cafeteria manager, and Angie Zanger Geiselman, a St. Peter parent and a registered and licensed dietitian with Quincy Medical Group.
"Just because food is healthy doesn't mean it has to taste bad," Geiselman said.
Last week's class had the older students making individual pizzas using whole wheat tortillas for the crust.
"The key with this is not to use a lot of sauce on it. It's very thin, and it will get soggy," Geiselman said.
Fifth-grader Morgan Zanger topped her pizza with cheese and a "face" made from strips of red pepper.
"I really like cooking," Morgan said. "I want to learn how to cook better food."
In one-on-one counseling with clients for weight and diabetes management, Geiselman increasingly finds that they don't know how to cook, so they're relying on processed foods or fast food which can contribute to their medical conditions. That helped inspire the class, supported by QMG, "to teach kids how use real food and cook to be more self-sufficient," she said.
Geiselman sprinkled some nutrition tips through the class, asking students why she wanted them to use whole grain items.
"They're high in fiber," eighth-grader Noah Clark said.
Foods high in fiber take the body longer to break down, "so it keeps you full longer," Geiselman said. "One thing we know about our meals is we want them to be colorful. Dark colors have more cancer-fighting properties in them."
Adding carrots, cucumber and peppers with dip alongside the pizza made a delicious after-school snack.
"We don't want to eat just pizza," Geiselman said. "What do we want half our plate to have on it? Vegetables."
Another healthy option – and an experiment for the group – was making pizza crust out of cauliflower, which also takes a leading role in Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice.
"If we find a way to sneak vegetables into favorite foods, we can eat more," Geiselman said. "The key is getting the water out of the cauliflower."
Students cut the cauliflower into small florets, then added it to a food processor.
"I love to cook," eighth-grader Olivia Ley said. "This has helped me learn about different techniques."
Garrett put together small cauliflower crusts to bake until crispy, then had them ready for favorite pizza toppings.
"It's got a good flavor to it," Garrett said.
Finding out that some of the students skip breakfast led to trying recipes like Healthy Breakfast Cookies and Egg Breakfast Cups, "things you can make on your own," Geiselman said. Another favorite snack is Cinnamon Chips with Fruit Salsa.
And Cool Whip Cookies in two flavors, chocolate and lemon, became a new favorite to top off the pizza meal.
Made with just three ingredients, "these were super easy," Geiselman said. "I like the lemon best."
Egg Breakfast Cups
Salt and pepper to taste
Fillings: Chopped spinach, diced tomatoes, finely diced onion, finely diced bell pepper, broccoli cut into small florets, Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese
In a measuring cup, beat the eggs until smooth; set aside.
In a greased muffin tin, place desired combination of fillings into each muffin cup. Season each cup with salt and pepper. Pour the beaten eggs into each cup until the liquid almost reaches the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until set.
Healthy Breakfast Cookies
3 bananas, mashed
2 cups quick cooking oats
1/3 cup applesauce
¼ cup almond milk
¼ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup chocolate chips, optional
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined. Place heaping tablespoons on a parchment-lined pan, and gently press with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely; store in the refrigerator up to four days.
3-4 medium sized tortillas
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a bowl, mix together cinnamon and sugar. Cut tortillas into desired shape. With a basting brush, lightly coat chips with butter on each side. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture on each side of the tortilla.
Place chips on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Let chips fully cool before enjoying.
1 bag frozen fruit, thawed and diced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing gently. Serve with cinnamon chips.
NOTE: If fresh fruit is available, choose options like 2 peaches, 1 cup strawberries, 2 kiwi and 1 pear.
1 large spaghetti squash
salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons water (for microwave)
Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Using a large spoon, scoop out seeds and stringy flesh.
To bake squash in the oven, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place cut side down in a baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove squash from oven, and using a fork, scrape the insides of the squash to separate the strands. Season and enjoy.
To microwave squash, place one half of the squash cut side down in a small casserole dish. Pour water into the dish, and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 7 to 8 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork. Carefully remove plastic wrap (hot steam will escape). Using a fork, scrape the insides of the squash to separate the strands. Season and enjoy.
Cauliflower Crust Pepperoni Pizza
5 cups roughly chopped cauliflower (about 1 medium head)
¼ cup (about 2 large) egg whites
¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
8 slices turkey pepperoni, chopped
Fresh basil, optional
Working in batches as needed, pulse cauliflower in a food processor until reduced to the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Place cauliflower in a large microwave-safe bowl; cover and microwave for 3 ½ minutes. Uncover and stir. Cover and microwave for another 3 ½ minutes, or until hot and soft. Transfer cauliflower to a fine-mesh strainer. Let cool for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Using a clean dish towel (or paper towels), press out as much moisture as possible. (There will be a lot of excess liquid.) Return cauliflower to the bowl, and add remaining crust ingredients; mix thoroughly.
To form the crusts, evenly divide cauliflower mixture into two circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Make each circle about ¼-inch thick and 7 inches in diameter. Bake crusts at 400 degrees until the top has browned, about 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine crushed tomatoes, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning. Mix well. Spread seasoned tomatoes over each crust, leaving a ½-inch border. Evenly sprinkle with cheese, basil (if desired) and pepperoni.
Bake until cheese has melted and crust is crispy, 5 to 7 minutes.
NOTE: Don't have a fine-mesh strainer? Use a clean dish towel to wring out the water, getting rid of as much liquid as possible.
Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons honey
½ medium onion
1 bunch broccoli
2 medium carrots
½ medium red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 pound beef steak or chicken
2 cups brown rice or cauliflower rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Whisk together the sauce ingredients; set aside. Chop all vegetables and slice meat. Set rice to cook ahead of time.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, and saute until slightly translucent. Add garlic and vegetables and cover, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften. Meanwhile, cook beef in a separate skillet until brown, then add to vegetables.
Pour sauce over everything, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 for 10 minutes, until vegetables are done to liking and sauce has thickened a bit. Sauce will continue to thicken off the heat.
Serve over brown rice or cauliflower rice, and garnish with green onions or sesame seed if desired.
Cool Whip Cookies
1 box cake mix, any flavor
1 (eight-ounce) tub lite Cool Whip
In a bowl, combine together dry cake mix, Cool Whip and egg. Scoop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
NOTE: Refrigerating dough for at least an hour will reduce stickiness before rolling into balls. Put powdered sugar into a small bowl. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into the bowl to coat in powdered sugar, then place on baking sheet.