Kid-friendly cooking

QUINCY -- Blessed Sacrament third-graders Emmy Kistner and Ellie Miller couldn't wait to sample a fresh-made chicken and spinach quesadilla.

"Delicious," Ellie said.

"Mmmmm," Emmy said.

Watching Kohl Wholesale Corporate Chef Tony Hedgers prepare the quesadilla only added to the fun during the school's Community Members as Teachers, or CAT, day held last week.

"We're coming in to help them have fun, learn more about food and show them they can make their own recipes at home," said Rebecca Shinn, a registered dietitian and part of Kohl's nutrition and culinary team.

It's fun with food, Shinn said, and a way to make healthy choices while building culinary skills at an early age.

"It's never too early for kids to learn about food and start those healthy habits," Shinn said. "The biggest thing, if you work with somebody on healthy eating, is breaking the bad habits. It's not necessarily that they don't want to eat fruit and vegetables, they don't know how to get started."

One good way is a Quick Quesadilla -- filled with grilled chicken breast, shredded cheese and fresh spinach -- and cooked on a griddle or the stovetop until the tortilla crisps and the cheese melts.

"This can be a meal," Shinn said. "It has that protein to fill you up."

Hedgers demonstrated how to make the quesadilla, first chopping the chicken into small pieces before cooking it on a griddle and making sure the cutting board was washed before using it again to avoid cross contamination of raw and cooked foods.

He melted cheese on a tortilla on a hot griddle before adding chicken, spinach and more cheese. "I like a lot of cheese," Hedgers said.

He added a second tortilla, then carefully flipped over the quesadilla to finish cooking.

"Quesadillas can be anything you want," Hedgers said. "It's something that s really versatile. They can make a chicken quesadilla, a vegetable quesadilla, a gluten-free quesadilla or also do a dessert quesadilla with berries inside, a little caramel inside so it melts. Drizzle a little hot fudge over the top with whipped cream and a cherry."

Simple dishes like quesadillas, Fruit-a-licious Breakfast Cups, Crunchy Rainbow Wraps or Food Group Friend provide a good way to get kids cooking -- and eating -- healthy.

Fourth-grader Braddon Day already sometimes makes quesadillas at home along with scrambled eggs and from-scratch pancakes. He likes to cook, especially "stuff I can easily make," he said.

The students took home the ingredients to make a spinach and cheese quesadilla for a snack or a meal.

It's a way, Hedgers said, to get the youngsters involved with meal planning.

"Meal planning is a big thing nowadays for people," he said. "They watch their parents do it. They can get in and do it. It's fun for them."

SClBQuick Quesadillas

4 ounces chicken breast, cubed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 (six-inch) tortillas

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

½ cup spinach, raw leaves

2 tablespoons ranch or chipotle ranch dressing

Cook cubed chicken in olive oil until done; set aside. Place tortilla in pan on medium heat. Spread half of the cheese on top of the tortilla; cook until cheese I melted. Place chicken and spinach on top of melted cheese. Pour ranch dressing on top of chicken and spinach, or reserve dressing to serve on the side.

Top with remaining cheese, and place the other tortilla on top. Carefully but quickly, flip the quesadilla over, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Peek at the tortilla to make sure it is not cooking too fast. Remove quesadilla from pan, and place on cutting board. Let cool for 1 to 2 minutes. Cut quesadilla like a pizza and serve.

Fruit-a-licious Breakfast Cup

Low-fat yogurt

Whole grain cereal

Fruit (apple, pineapple, raisins, peaches, blueberries, banana or another favorite)

Spoon yogurt into a cup. Spoon cereal on top of the yogurt. Add some fruit on top of the cereal. Add more yogurt, then cereal, then fruit.

Crunchy Rainbow Wrap

Whole wheat tortillas

Reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

Assorted vegetables (red or yellow pepper strips, red beans, chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots, corn, peas, spinach, shredded lettuce, shredded purple cabbage, radicchio)

Spread cream cheese onto tortilla. Use vegetables to create a rainbow on the tortilla, leaving some room around the edges. Fold in sides of the tortilla, then start at one end and tightly roll tortilla.

Food Group Friend

English muffin, brown rice cake or bread

Beans or sliced hard-boiled eggs

Vegetables (carrots, celery, broccoli, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers or bell peppers)

Low-fat cheese

Fruit (blueberries, bananas, raisins, apples or grapes)

Use beans or eggs, vegetables and fruits to make a face – eyes, nose and mouth – on a muffin, rice cake or bread. Use low-fat cheese to cover the "head" with hair or a hat.

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