a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Jul, 2010

Know More Do More Monday: cooking with kids

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Know More Do More

I was at the grocery store last night, browsing the bakery section, looking for a dessert that would satisfy a nagging craving. I picked up a frozen pie, skimmed the nutrition panel and the ingredients, and put it back. The pie was made up of a whole list of things that I didn’t recognize, including one thing I did recognize: palm kernel oil. As I was putting it back I realized there was a woman about my age poised to grab the same box.

“What is it,” she asked. “Something bad?”
“Palm kernel oil,” I said.
“Why, is that bad?” There was concern in her eyes. Or was it disgust?
“Apparently it’s one of the worst oils out there.”

She put it back.

I don’t think I was far off in my dislike of palm kernel oil. Here’s what Dr. Weil writes about it:

… unlike palm oil, palm kernel oil can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. In short, palm kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat, and I recommend avoiding food products containing it.

And so I do. Apparently it is high in saturated fat, which, according to the American Heart Association, is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. The Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation also recommends reducing saturated fat in our diets.

This past week’s KMDM activity was to:

Pick out a new recipe to try this week together. 20% of families eat frozen dinners and another 20% eat pre-cooked meals.

I would like to know more about that 20% who eats frozen dinners. How often do they eat frozen dinners? And why? Is it because they hate to cook, don’t know how crappy most frozen dinners can be, or don’t have time?

I’m probably going to offend some people here, but I’m not sure if I buy the “don’t have time” argument. I think we, as parents, make choices about how and where we spend our time. And I know fatigue plays a huge part of it (I don’t have the energy to make elaborate meals), but it’s not entirely unfair to say that fatigue – for some of us at least – may be partially caused by overloading on processed carbs.

Many people plan and prep their meals once a week, say Sunday mornings. Personally, I wish I could be better at this. More often than not I’m doing menu planning by the seat of my pants. And I work from home!

Is time really an issue, or is it about priorities and the choices we make? We make time to check email and watch YouTube videos and go shoe shopping, so why can’t we find time to make healthy meals for our families? There are so many recipes that don’t require a lot of time and effort. Slow-cookers, roast chickens, and make-ahead dinners make meal prep a little easier too.

Anyway, back to the challenge.

The first goal was to find a recipe. The girls weren’t keen to flip through my cookbooks, so instead we talked about our favourite dinner-related meals. Emma immediately suggested spaghetti – which was a good one – but the idea here is to try a new meal. So we talked about our favourite ingredients.

What came out of this was:

  • ham
  • pineapple
  • bread
  • cheese

Now this was something I could work with!

I had just been looking at Pioneer Woman’s delicious-looking recipe for Grilled Chicken Pineapple Quesadillas. So that’s what we made – but with ham. (Not my preference, but STILL.)

I wish I had photos of our meal to share with you, but frankly, I was too hungry to take the time. Mark grilled the pineapple and the ham on the BBQ. The girls helped grate the cheese and put everything together. Admittedly, this was more about assembling – not so much cooking – but the end result was really good and the girls were very proud that they helped.

Mark and I added jalapeno peppers to ours. Next time we’ll add sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro just like Pioneer Woman did.

I will say this: they turned out great. Roasted pineapple is divine. The ham was a little dry, but no one noticed. One kid liked them a little bit more than the other, but ate them anyway. Mark and I both agreed that this recipe was a keeper. Don’t you love it when that happens?

Do you have a recipe you like to make with your kids? I’d love to hear about it if you do!

This is next week’s Know More Do More activity:

Have a dance-off in the kitchen after dinner tonight [Woo hoo!] Increased physical fitness and active living opportunities have positive effects on academic performance.

I have no doubt this one is true. I would also add “… and helps them sleep better at night” too!

This post is part of the Know More Do More initiative which was spearheaded by the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network. KMDM is about empowering parents and inspiring them to take charge of their children’s health by taking easy steps to increase activity levels and improve eating habits. I’m one of two champion families who has been asked to take this challenge. You can join too. Check out the official website for more information. If you’re blogging about your participation, please let me know so we can cheer each other on! You can read all of my past weekly challenges here.

15 Responses to "Know More Do More Monday: cooking with kids"

1 | bushidoka

July 26th, 2010 at 12:16 pm


I do not buy the time argument either.

This morning I was walking down my street and it struck me as funny that THREE of the houses along my short little street had enough pizza boxes in their recycling bin to indicate that they eat take out pizza about every second day!

2 | Julie

July 26th, 2010 at 12:47 pm


I suspect another reason is that people think cooking is hard and that they need a recipe and/or training to do it. Recipes on websites and in magazines perpetuate this by having page-long recipes and instructions that seem unnecessarily convoluted to me. When I share my “recipes”, they rarely take more than two or three lines of type, and usually less. They’re more like ideas or methods than a typical recipe.

Sure, there are complicated recipes, but you can make those when you’re on vacation or for a special occasion, but there’s got to be a middle ground for complexity somewhere between a complex recipe with a dozen or more ingredients, and ordering a pizza.

3 | Annie

July 26th, 2010 at 2:08 pm


I really enjoy the KMDM series on this blog. It certainly gets me thinking about my own life… The most recent challenge is appropriately timed!

My daughter turns 3 this week and we are having a little party with 3 of her friends and it is a toddler cooking party! Lucía loves to “help” me in the kitchen and so I think that she is going to be having a fun time with her friends… It will be simple things for them to make, but fun nonetheless.

The statistics of the average family’s eating habits shocked me. I wish that we could eat prepared and/or frozen meals, on occasion. We have a lot of specialized dietary concerns in our house (gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free as well as other ingredients-free, but that would be too long to list!). Pretty much everything we eat is made from scratch and my husband and I spend many house a day in the kitchen (which is why we didn’t blink an eye at renovating our kitchen to make it fabulous!!).

In any case, thanks for the thought-provoking and timely post…

4 | Robyn

July 26th, 2010 at 3:40 pm


I always found that my solutions to getting healthy meals on the table before the kids got too tired to be hungry, changed with every age. When they were really little, Cheerios were magical. As they got older, cheese and crackers worked. Now, they sometimes snack on leftover chicken, grapes, celery and a smoothie until they’ve eaten a meal equivalent (and then still eat the planned meal!) It’s definitely gotten easier as they’ve gotten older and in part it’s because I am easier on myself. I used to do a different, start from scratch meal every evening but now I rely on making a lot on Sundays so I have leftovers. Sometimes we get the pre-cooked chicken from a grocery store, sometimes we have breakfast for dinner and sometimes it’s pizza. I find that it’s my own attitude about the time available — and needing it all to be perfect — that has changed over the years. I serve healthy meals but it’s a LOT more relaxed!

5 | Laura

July 26th, 2010 at 4:23 pm


I LOVE grilled pineapple. Quesadillas are a staple in our home, so a new twist is most welcome. I find cooking in big batches and freezing measl helps to avoid last minute fast food purchases. I sometimes forget to defrost the dinner the night before – working on it. :)

6 | Marianne

July 26th, 2010 at 6:06 pm


I am just 4 or 5 weeks in to what will be a 4 or 5 year leave of absence to stay home with my daughter (2 and a half) and the baby due to arrive in 3 months. We were finding it impossible to keep our family life running with both of us working, and now that I’m home I’m working on putting our family back on track, especially when it comes to our eating habits.

One recipe I really like to make that is SUPER easy (and is as One of our family favourites that I discovered in a Kraft magazine over a year ago is a Chicken Bruschetta Bake. It’s super fast and easy to make, and it’s just as good reheated as it is fresh from the oven (for nights when someone comes home later, or for lunches the next day).

Here’s the recipe:

I usually add some oregano, because I find just the basil alone doesn’t give it quite enough flavour for me. Also, I don’t bother layering the ingredients in the baking dish as it says, I just stir it all together in the dish. You can adjust teh ingredients to add more or less tomatoe, and more or less shredded cheese, as per your family’s preference. Also, now that I’m home I may experiment to see if I can replace the stovetop stuffing with my own ingredients.

7 | Erica at KitchissippiKids

July 26th, 2010 at 8:22 pm


I’m middle of the road as far as food (and most things) go. My general approach (I won’t say rule because I sometimes “fail”) is 3 food groups at every meal, whole foods whenever “possible” (yes I leave myself an out) and whole grains almost exclusively. I don’t typically buy prepared foods but won’t say never, and yes we do order pizza on and off.

I was a picky eater as a child and so have some (possibly misplaced) sympathy for my somewhat picky children. They’re also very different in their tastes which adds another challenge. One knew he loved greens the minute he saw them, the other really dislikes them. One prefers vegetables over fruit and the other is the exact opposite. Their pickiness is not just about healthy foods – until this summer neither of them would eat anything but vanilla ice cream! No they did not want to try chocolate (and they are 8 and 7).
I think one way to encourage a higher degree of healthy eating practices as a cultural generality is to ensure that healthy eating – but not necessarily perfection – is the goal. I could be very wrong but I suspect that blogs and their respective comments are written by people largely of a similar viewpoint and demographic. Broadening that social interaction is a worthwhile goal and one way to do that is to limit judgment of others’ choices and accept that improvement is a valid goal without making the end goal seem unattainable. Does that make any sense?

I’m also of the view that many, many things contribute to a person’s health. I used to worry about my son having a cup of juice until I realized that he stood much more chance of getting a major head injury on a play structure. Nutrition, safe play, growth and development / education and mental health are all hugely important and we all strive to be perfect parents but few of us will achieve it. In the end our overall approach will impact our lives but we won’t be hurt (much) by minor deviations as long as that’s what they stay. And if our children take half of what we teach them through their first years on their own we’re probably doing well. Can you, after all, imagine university residence life without pizza?

I don’t read health blogs, websites and health magazines often and frankly I don’t know who Dr. Weil is or why I should follow his advice. I do know that he also has a product development and sales side and whether he’s right or wrong (probably right, but still) I’m sceptical of opting into his advice. While some things are fairly obvious (eg. whole foods, whole grains) others aren’t and trends change.

I’m rambling but finally, I didn’t forget – a recipe that I like to make with my kids: It’s a European pancake recipe from my mom but it is actually best with (gulp) white flour. Beat 2 eggs, alternately add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of milk until it’s frothy and a somewhat runny consistency. Fill a ladle and pop it in a pan (1 pancake per full frying pan – they’re plate size) till golden brown. Serve with your favorite fruit and maple syrup. They’re lighter than regular pancakes and should be a thickness half-way between a crepe and a north-american style pancake.

8 | andrea

July 26th, 2010 at 9:58 pm


I hope I don’t sound judgemental. I was merely asking the questions. I can realisticaly only speak about our own habits, goals, and yes, failings. I’m far from perfect, but I am getting better at reading labels, making better choices, and cooking healthy meals.

As parents, we can only do what we can do, but for myself personally, I know there is a lot of room for improvement. I need to spend more time planning and preparing meals. I need to find some new recipes too.

My goal, for my kids, is to establish healthy eating habits early on. Food and health education starts early.

My link to Dr.Weil was in an attempt to explain what palm kernel oil is. Whether or not you agree with his particulars is up to you. If there are is another explanation about it somewhere online I would love to read it. I think many would agree however, that it is an unhealthy fat, which is why I’m doing my best to avoid it.

There’s nothing wrong with eating pizza in residence. :) (I can’t tell you how many packages of KD and Mr. Noodle I ate during my first couple years of university.) And if the girls do the same I know it won’t kill them, I just hope they return to the healthy foods they ate growing up.

9 | bushidoka

July 27th, 2010 at 5:58 am


Kudos to Marianne for putting your family first!

10 | Fast, easy, healthy recipes? | Healthy Vegan Foods

July 27th, 2010 at 5:34 pm


[…] Know More Do More Monday: cooking with kids >> a peek inside the … […]

11 | Laura

July 27th, 2010 at 10:34 pm


I don’t think you sound judgemental Andrea. I am guessing most of us tuning in for the ‘Know More, Do More Monday Cooking with Kids’ posts are looking for new ideas, opinions and a little inspiration. I’m enjoying your posts, thanks.

12 | plastikgyrl

July 28th, 2010 at 11:34 am


I dno’t feel judged by anyone but me. I do use the “no time” excuse frequently, and what I feed my kids has decreased in quality and prep-time as my own life has gotten busier. I work full-time, I’m the only adult in the house, and by the time I get the kids (8 and 10) home every day, it’s about 6:30. The kids have been doing cooking classes at aftercare this past year, and have started getting more independent in the kitchen, but I still struggle with getting them to actually eat anything that isn’t white.
Now that my own dietary restrictions force me to take more time with food preparation, I have hope that I can get all of us back on track.

Once again, not feeling offended or judged, just flailing.

13 | vanessa

August 2nd, 2010 at 8:55 am


thanks for the tip off about palm kernel oil , I’ll avoid it . – ground nut is not bad if you haven’t tried it , it makes a nice alternative

14 | Know More Do More: dance your face off >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 3rd, 2010 at 7:13 am


[…] I mentioned last week, I have no doubt that this is true. I know from personal experience that kids (and puppies!) who […]

15 | Know More Do More: more about dinners and a sugar fast >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 31st, 2010 at 7:50 am


[…] know I’ve written about this before, and it’s true. Establishing good eating habits happens at home when the kids are small. […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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