How do you encourage kids to eat more healthy food? It’s an age old question asked by many parents, pediatricians and nutritionists. Some think the answer lies in deception—blending extra veggies in their pasta sauce or hiding it in a serving of mac and cheese—because they don’t believe that kids can learn enjoy healthy food. But, at Vetri Community Partnership, we think it’s simpler than that.
In our after-school program, Vetri Cooking Lab, we teach students how to cook tasty and nutritious recipes with simple ingredients they can find in their own neighborhoods. We’ve made a wide range of recipes: vegetable minestrone soup, zucchini pappardelle, rainbow spring rolls and kale salads with homemade lemon vinaigrette. Not only are the students enthusiastic about chopping herbs, peeling carrots and squeezing lemon, but each time we’re left with more clean plates than not.
So, what’s the trick? We believe that engaging kids in the process of cooking and eating is a powerful way to teach them about nutrition, the food system and their own health and wellness. Each recipe corresponds to an important nutrition lesson, like whole foods vs. processed foods, the importance of breakfast, nutrition labels and added sugar, food marketing and more. Students leave the classroom as “educated food consumers” who are inspired to make healthier decisions about the food they purchase, cook and eat.
Last year, GSK funded a pilot of Vetri Cooking Lab, reaching 343 students. After the 10-week session, students reported that they were cooking more on their own, reading nutrition labels, and finding more healthy food in their neighborhoods. These promising results have led to another grant from GSK—this time for $440,000 over two years to expand the program to 30 sites serving more than 1,200 students in the region. We are grateful to GSK for their support.
Vetri Cooking Lab builds on Philadelphia’s success in driving down obesity rates among young people, as well as ongoing efforts to expand high-quality out-of-school-time programs for students.
We hope you’ll try the below recipe from our Vetri Cooking Lab program with your family over the Thanksgiving break. You can swap the chicken in the quesadilla with leftover turkey. Enjoy!
Chicken, Apple & Cheddar Quesadilla
- 8 8-inch whole grain flour tortillas
- 2 Granny Smith apples, sliced thinly
- 2 cups cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Lay tortilla flat in a non-stick skillet over low heat. Sprinkle 1⁄4 cup of shredded cheese over the entire tortilla. On only half of the tortilla lay out 1⁄4 cup of cooked chicken and top with sliced apple from about a quarter of an apple.
- Keep open-faced until the cheese melts and then fold the half with no filling over the chicken and apples.
- Serve immediately with Dijon Dipping Sauce (recipe below)
Dijon Dipping Sauce
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, low or no fat
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well together.
- Chill until ready to serve with the quesadilla for dipping.
Marlene L. Olshan is CEO of Vetri Community Partnership.