It's a simple equation: Kids plus cooking equals healthful meals. Sound easy? With "Cooking Up the Good Life" by Jenny Breen and Susan Thurston (University of Minnesota Press, $19.95), it is.
The authors offer recipes, tips and suggestions for meals that families will want to make together, with tasks that can be given to kids. Breen hopes that kitchens will once again become the heart of the home and offer a classroom for math, chemistry, culture, biology, gardening, culture, history, family stories and lore.
The chapters are organized by season and focus on fresh, local fare with a final note about local wines and beers at the end. (So there is something for everyone in the household.)
At first glance, the recipes challenge familiar notions of kid-friendly fare, but the proof is in their making. Take the "Early Greens With Miso Dressing and Toasted Almonds," a balance of sweet, spicy and sour tastes and a lot of crunch.
"I don't expect every kid to love every recipe in this book," says Breen. "The truth is my girls, Solana, 9, and Frances, 7, certainly don't. I'm not looking for perfection, but just presenting different whole foods is part of a good education. We can expect more of ourselves and our kids; my theory is to just give these a try, you may be surprised."
After 20 years of cooking professionally as a restaurant owner and partner in Good Life Catering, she has developed youth-cooking programs for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Youth Farm and Market Project and community education classes. Awarded a Bush Leadership fellowship in 2009, Breen is finishing a degree in public health and nutrition while advocating for local, sustainable whole foods in schools and urban communities.
Co-author Thurston, a poet and novelist, worked with Breen in the University of Minnesota's Compleat Scholar program. For these two mothers of young children, collaboration seemed a natural step.
"I appreciate Jenny's relaxed, accessible approach; she's positive and realistic. My two kids, Madeline, 15, and Samuel, 12, are very different. But the fun is getting them involved. When you draw in stories of the growers and the vintners, they become part of the extended family, too," said Thurston.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis writer and cooking teacher.