Elemental Kids: Kids in the kitchen

How did food swapping go?  Do you and your family have a new favorite food.  When I try new foods and I actually like what I tried, I get so excited because I have something new and different to eat.  We all know we can get bored with certain foods we constantly eat, so mixing it up can always be a wonderful option to go for in our lives.  

This week Emilie and I are going to share some tips on how to involve your children in the kitchen.  There are so many ways your whole family can be involved in the kitchen.  Try out some of these tips for this week and I promise you will see how easy it can be.  Remember children need guidance first then they can slowly begin to complete the task on their own.

 Try the I do, We do, you do approach.

- Laura


Benefits of children cooking in the kitchen:

  1. A Meditative Experience- Your using all five senses when cooking, so when all senses are engaged you are naturally more mindful.  Have you ever been cooking an old family recipe and it brought you joy because it reminded you of memories you had with the people you cooked with? Senses are powerful.

    (Emilie’s Tip) Let your little ones interact with individual ingredients. Put salt in their hand and ask how it FEELS. They can even put a little bit on their tongue to explore the taste & texture.

    If you want to learn more on how to stay mindful in the kitchen then check out this wonderful article by Headspace on mindful cooking.


2. Exercising our fine motor skills-   Next time you chop, pour, stir, flip, etc.. think about all the muscles you are using to do these tasks. For kids, when they complete these tasks it helps build those muscles they use for writing, cutting, independently opening a bag of chips at school, or picking up or holding something. For the little ones, let them help you stir or arrange food on a baking sheet.  Amazon has a variety of kid safe knives, kid cook books,  cooking sets, and many other accessories to allow your child to safely help you in the kitchen.  On a budget? No problem! Target dollar spot and the Dollar Tree have tons of kid friends kitchen utensils.


3. Math and Science skills- Cooking is a great way to practice measuring, weighing, cooking time, converting temperature, changing quantities, and the reaction certain ingredients can have with each other to create something delicious and mesmerizing.  I struggled in these two subject areas, so becoming truly hands on with concepts I was learning helped me to fully grasp them. Also, I was having fun and learning!

4. “Feeding” our Creativity- Some are creative writers, drawers, painters, but some are creative in the kitchen.  Try a “chopped” challenge with your family (not as difficult ingredients of course :) and see what they create together.   Watching people cook can also spark creativity.

(Emilie’s Tip) Kids feel creative when their empowered to make choices! When I work with kids, I give them freedom to make up their own smoothie recipes and THEY LOVE IT. Give several ingredient options (nut butters, fruit, even cacao powder!) and make a rule - like their recipe must contain at least 1/4 cup of a veggie (spinach and cauliflower are my go-tos). They get to pick the quantities for everything else! They learn soooooo much about what they like/don’t like.

Here are a few more resources to help you and your family get started in the kitchen:   Kids Cooking Kits Monthly Subscription    Sur La Table Cooking Classes Calendar    Sur La Table Summer Cooking Camps   Cooking is a great way to bring ALL together. Leave Emilie and I a comment or a picture of what you and your family decided to try in the kitchen this week.  Yoga for ALL  Love for ALL  Cooking for ALL  Laura and Emilie

Here are a few more resources to help you and your family get started in the kitchen:

Kids Cooking Kits Monthly Subscription

Sur La Table Cooking Classes Calendar

Sur La Table Summer Cooking Camps

Cooking is a great way to bring ALL together. Leave Emilie and I a comment or a picture of what you and your family decided to try in the kitchen this week.

Yoga for ALL

Love for ALL

Cooking for ALL

Laura and Emilie

Mommy and Me Breakfast by Melissa Cates

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

"An apple a day keeps the doctor aways."

"Always wear clean underwear."

These are some important adages to live by, and I can say I adhere pretty closely to two out of the three… What? Sometimes, I find myself all out of apples.  ;)

My two-year-old son is a grazer, but he does his best eating at breakfast. He will eat more variety and quantity first thing in the morning before his little mind and body start buzzing. So, it falls to me to provide him with plenty of nourishing, nutrient-dense fare from the get-go. I would love to stand at the stove and prepare him a veggie and feta frittata with a side of freshly diced fruit and some homemade granola having already showered, dressed and “put my face on.” Adorable apron, optional, but present in my fancy daydreams.

Ah, June Cleaver, you pillar of a woman! I serve Austin’s breakfast with yesterday’s pony tail riding low and loose, draped in lovely mix and match PJ’s with dark circles under my eyes that are either from too little sleep or a poor job with the eye makeup remover…or both.

My go to breakfast when I need to get everything cooked and on the table with minimal pots, pans, and prep time? Oatmeal. I love oatmeal. Like, really love it. Needless to say Austin does, too. Here’s what I do.

My first hack: one-minute oats. They are the same as their longer-cooking counterparts, just ground into smaller bits. Next, because I hate scrubbing pots first thing in the morning (or anytime, at all), I use the microwave. Use water, almond milk, or cow’s milk, depending on your preference. My scrawny tot gets whole milk, and I’ll tell you, the taste can’t be beat.

Then, pick your add-ins. Austin and I share, so I do 1.5 portions of the oatmeal and usually stir in half a cup or so of greek yogurt for protein. It makes enough for us both.  This morning, we were out of yogurt (oh, Fridays…) so a little coconut oil and flax seeds did the trick.

Oh, and honey. It doesn’t matter how healthy it is if he won’t eat it! A little goes a long way.

I found a squeeze yogurt and tossed it on the plate to entice him to eat, eat, eat; fresh fruit rounds it all out. One would normally cut fruit up for a toddler, but Austin is adamantly into having the “whole fing,” and that’s a battle I’m not about to fight!

I would write out a recipe, but it is found right there on the carton of oats. So, here are some ideas for stir-ins:

·      Greek yogurt (Protein, protein, protein)
·      Peanut or Almond Butter
·      Mashed Banana
·      Flax seeds (Omega-3’s are important for developing brains!)
·      Fresh fruit
·      Coconut Oil (Healthy fats are essential for growing tots. And, momma, rub a little on those dry cuticles for an instant mani!

Now that I’ve saved so much time on breakfast, I can catch up on my reading or give myself a mani-pedi. Oh wait, that’s another daydream. But seriously, I may not have time for wet nails during the day (who does?), but cutting yourself some slack by having easy, nutritious meals up your sleeve is a definite way to pamper yourself and simplify your life.

Wishing you breakfast, apples, and clean underwear,



Veggie Smoothie for Toddlers by Melissa Cates

Back in the good ole days, I could spoon anything into my little one’s mouth, and he would predictably mush it around and swallow. Aaaahhh... the sweet satisfaction of knowing little round belly was full of nutritious fruits, veggies, proteins, and the occasional tasty herb or spice.  (You know, for palate expansion....) Jump ahead to present day, Austin is two, and his lips might as well have a deadbolt on them. A deadbolt to which only he holds the key, and who knows what motivates him to unlock it. One day pasta is permissible, the next nothing but fruit shall pass.

Oh, two year olds. I won’t say they are “terrible,” because they are really too much fun for that label. I will say they will teach you a whole heap of things. About yourself, about them, about love, about forgiveness, about patience, about how to get crayon marks off of hardwood floors...

Really, I wish I had taken out stock in Purell and Brawny. And, maybe invested in part of a vineyard?


Anyway, ever since those little lips starting locking out my attempts at rounded nutrition, I started sneaking past the gatekeeper by throwing everything and anything into the blender and serving it up with a straw and a smile. (A little theatrical enthusiasm goes a long way with toddlers.) You may have to gradually add in the stronger tasting greens and veggies, but a good starting place is sweet baby carrots. Get that past your little culinary tyrant, and you can move on cauliflower, spinach (raw is milder than the cooked, frozen stuff), kale, even green peas! I really just use what I have in the fridge, but this one is what Austin drinks most days.

As A says when he gets up from his nap:  “It’s ‘moovie time!”

Austin’s Sneaky Veggie Smoothie

Serves 2 (momma could use a nutrional boost, too!)

  • 1 ripe banana (preferably frozen)
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored
  • 1 handful baby carrots
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 handful kale
  • 2 brussels sprouts (if you dare…)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, optional (Austin needs the extra fat and calories)
  • 1-2 tbsp honey, agave, sugar, or molasses
  • ½ cup greek yogurt, I use weetedplain for lower sugar content
  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Blend your heart out!

Tip: When loading your blender with all this goodness, put the heaviest foods on the bottom nearest the blade.


Warm Stew and Warm Memories

Mawmaw & Graham

Mawmaw & Graham

Warm Stew and Warm Memories

It goes without saying that the holidays are a time for family gatherings. This holiday season is especially dear to my own family. I lost a grandmother in September and a grandfather just two weeks ago. My grandmother held on until I completed a two-day journey home with both of my babies to kiss her goodbye, and my grandfather passed peacefully in his sleep the night after I had been over to visit him with my boys. I don’t mean to be somber, and really I don’t feel that way. I am joyful and eternally grateful for the family they created. Family is the most precious thing we have. It takes effort and intention, but if nurtured and cherished, family can provide support, comfort and a safe place to be your true self.

I was raised in a very close, Sunday-lunching kind of extended family. My cousins are like my siblings and every aunt and uncle had a hand in shaping who I have become. In such a family, grandparents are like the cornerstones. They are our common bond.  Our anchors to tradition and to each other. I could wax poetic about each one…

Grandaddy & Austin

Grandaddy & Austin

Instead, I will share a memory and a recipe. A few nights before he passed, my family was eating at my aunt and uncle’s house. My aunt fixed a fish stew that I made up several years ago. It reminded my Granddaddy of the Bouillabaisse he used to cook every weekend in his long past days in the kitchen. He was one of the first to get a bowl and was telling everyone how good it was as he sopped up the tomato wine sauce with a hunk of toasted garlic bread. I was so proud that he liked it, as my grandfather was a man with an excellent palate. I loved this soup before for its bold flavor and easy preparation, but now it has a special place in my heart right next to my grandfather.

Fisherman’s Stew

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tbsp butter

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped

  • 1 cup white white

  • 2-4 cups of lobster stock (can subsitute fish, clam or chicken stock), amount of liquid depends on the consistency you prefer

  • 1 cup pasta sauce (I use a homemade family recipe, but store bought will work)

  • 1 can diced tomatoes, no salt added

  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper

  • ½ tsp dried basil (or add more fresh if you have it)

  • ½ tsp dried oregano

  • ½ tsp anise

  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

  • ½ lb mussels

  • 8 clams

  • ½ lb shrimp

  • 2 tilapia fillets (or any white fish), cut in to 1 in pieces

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. In a large dutch oven or sauce pan, heat oil and butter. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 6-8 minutes.
 Add wine and let reduce for a few minutes.
Add stock and next 7 ingredients, through cannellini beans. Let sauce simmer about 10 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add more broth or salt as needed.
4. Add all seafood except the shrimp. Simmer about 6 minutes and then add shrimp. Cook about 4 minutes more, until shrimp are pink and clams have opened. Remove from heat and sprinkle parsley over each serving.

Serve with toasted baguette slices. The soup part can be made ahead of time and left on warm. Or even make it a day ahead and reheat for company. Add seafood when you are about 10-15 minutes out from dinnertime.

This supper is delicious and flavorful. Don’t be intimidated by the seafood; try it out this weekend for yourself, and then impress your friends and family at your next gathering. I guarantee they will be begging to know how you made such a restaurant-worthy dish. (Is that tooting my own horn?) 

To quote my grandfather’s favorite farewell: “Bye-cycle!”


The Fall Crowd-Pleaser

My Momma’s Chili: A Fall Crowd-Pleaser

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by JaBB

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by JaBB

Fall is a great time to come back to your roots. With the return of structured school days and the hubbub of the holidays just around the corner, it is a time for family meals shared around the table at the end of busy days. As soon as the outdoor temperature dips below 75 degrees (…okay 80 if I’m really antsy), I make my first big pot of chili. I use the recipe my mom has always used. It’s simple, classic, and delicious.  We eat it until we are almost sick of it, then I freeze the rest for a day when the craving rolls back around.  It’s perfect for weeknight dinners, rainy day lunches, tailgates, or potlucks. 

This annual chili preparation marks the advent of soup season in my house. Soups are easy to prepare, easy to customize, easy to freeze, and (of utmost importance to me) easy to clean up. Let me be honest about something upfront: for me, soup is all about the extras. I would probably turn my nose up at a bowl all by its lonesome, but slide over a grilled cheese, garlic bread, tortilla chips, or parmesan crisps, and I’m all in… Spoon, please!

Momma’s Classic Chili

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 lbs lean ground beef
2 packets chili seasoning (or you own combo of cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper)
2 cans black beans
2 cans chili beans
2 cans dark red kidney beans
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
½ bottle of beer, optional, but my mom swears by it
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Toppings: shredded low fat cheese, greek yogurt*, chopped green onion, whole grain crackers or tortilla chips

Photo: Creative Commons, Jeff Clark    

Photo: Creative Commons, Jeff Clark


In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Brown onion and green bell pepper. Add beef and cook until brown. Add chili seasoning to the beef mixture and mix. Pour in beans (with their liquid), tomatoes, and beer. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for as long as you can wait (give it at least an hour to get good and flavorful).  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with toppings of your choice. 

*I always use greek yogurt in place of sour cream in everything. My husband probably thinks they don’t make sour cream anymore… ;) 

- Melissa