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Color your way to better nutrition

A very unscientific survey of six girls at a Nardin Academy summer cooking class this week came up with the following raw data:

• Tomatoes, peppers and potatoes are more popular than eggplant, asparagus and kale.

• Broccoli, spinach and squash have grown in popularity over the last generation.

• Cabbage, turnips and parsnips are largely unknown to the younger set.

• Today’s parents are a lot more likely to bring kids into the kitchen for planning, prep and cooking than was the case a generation or two ago, when mom tended to meal duties alone.

“We end up making a lot of the dinner,” 10-year-old Kate Saccone said of herself and her brother, Christopher, 11.

Kate was quizzed along with Shea Hartman, also 10, Maddy Forton, 9, and Tess Shanahan and Abby Gioia, both 11. All live in the Northtowns or the city, and attend Nardin, City Honors or St. Gregory the Great Catholic schools. More than half have vegetable gardens at home. Pizza is a rare meal in their households.

The group was part of a larger contingent to make red, green and orange smoothies in the Nardin Dining Hall with help from school chef Julie Levin.

“Healthy foods don’t have to be a raw mix of only vegetables. There’s a lot you can do to make a version of comfort food that is still appealing and flavorful,” said Levin, who during the last two years has helped turn school meals at her high school alma mater into a colorful mix of scratch-cooked foods – as many as possible from local food sources.

The coming months will be the ideal time for families across the region to take a similar tack in their own kitchens and backyard barbecue spaces, Levin said. She, organic farmer Dan Roelofs of Arden Farm outside East Aurora, and Trocaire College Nutrition and Dietetics Department Director Nicole Klem joined forces in recent days to put together healthful recipes – broken down by color – you’ll want to consider making with the kids.

“More variety, more color, more diversity means more nutrition,” Klem said. “We’re getting most of our vitamin K, potassium, folic acid and fiber from these fruits and vegetables. It’s like taking the world’s best multivitamin.”


Cherry Tomato and Pearl Mozzarella Salad

Has a fun, visually appealing gumball-like texture, with no cutting or cooking needed, Levin said.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly torn basil

1 pound ciliegine mozzarella (cherry sized)

1 pint cherry tomatoes (about 2 cups)

3 tablespoons of lemon juice (may be substituted with balsamic, sherry or other vinegar of choice)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine oil and basil in a bowl. Add the mozzarella and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and let marinate for 30 minutes.

Add tomatoes and lemon juice or vinegar. Toss to combine. Season to taste with more salt and pepper as needed.


One Pan Spiralized “Spaghetti” with Tomato Sauce

Fun texture and prep, as kids can spiralize and peel squash and carrots, and shave or grate Parmesan. “Quick prep and cleanup as it eliminates the no-pan-left-behind syndrome of complicated recipes,” Levin said. “Zucchini and squash are hopping right now,” said Klem.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

For “spaghetti”:

5 medium yellow squash (2 pound), spiralized

3 large carrots (1 pound), large enough to spiralize, peeled and spiralized

For tomato sauce:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 to pounds fresh tomatoes, 2.5 chopped (use orange or yellow heirlooms to keep with the color theme, but any fresh summer tomato will be delicious)

1/4 cup freshly torn basil leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

^ pound block Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler or freshly grated

In a large saute pan bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the spiralized carrots. After 2 minutes, add the spiralized yellow squash and continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and drain the blanched “spaghetti.”

In the same large saute pan, heat olive oil and add garlic and onion when hot. Sweat the aromatics for 5 minutes until soft, but, not caramelized.

Add the chopped tomato, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook for 5 minutes.

Return the vegetable “spaghetti” to the pan and toss with fresh tomato sauce for a few more minutes until heated through. Season to taste.

Serve with freshly torn basil and Parmesan cheese shavings – and also with Better Meatballs (see recipe on Page 11).


Going Blue Smoothie

Easy, kid-friendly blender recipe adds spinach into diet in a colorful, palatable way, Levin said.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

1/2 cup water

1 cup blueberries

1/2 cup pineapple, chopped

1/2 cup green grapes

1 cup fresh spinach, packed

1/2 cup ice cubes

Place all ingredients into the blender container in the order listed and secure the lid.

Turn machine on low and slowly increase the speed. Blend for 45 seconds or until desired consistency is reached.

Serve immediately.


Blanched Green Beans

This recipe emphasizes color and preserves the fresh crunchy texture kids enjoy, Levin said, and can be paired with a healthy ranch dip below to encourage healthy snacking.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

Bring a large pot of water to boiling.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Working in batches, carefully place the beans into the boiling water and cook until the color is set and the beans remain toothsome; 2 minutes for small beans, 3 minutes for medium and 4 for large.

Quickly cool the beans by plunging them into the ice water.

Drain the cooled beans.

Serve as is, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and salt or with a healthy ranch or other dip of choice.


A Better Ranch Dip

This dip encourages kids to eat vegetables “and has considerably less sodium, no additives and a protein boost,” Levin said.

Serves: 6-8

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed if using canned

1/2 cup 2 percent Greek yogurt

1 ice cube

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Kosher salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon each chives, parsley and dill, minced

Place the garlic, beans, yogurt and ice cube in a food processor and blend until smooth.

With the machine running, add the lemon juice, olive oil and salt.

Pour into a bowl and stir in the paprika and herbs.

Season to taste, serve as a dip or salad dressing for heartier greens and enjoy.


Better Meatballs

“I’m a big fan of having a vegetable in the meal three different ways, said Roelofs, for instance, diced carrots in a burger, sliced julienne-style and steamed, and grated into a salad. That’s part of the idea in this “fun prep” recipe, Levin said. “The additions move protein choices in a plant-forward direction.”

Serves: 4

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

1 onion, finely chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1.5 cups zucchini or other vegetables, finely chopped

2 eggs, whisked

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit for the hands for rolling

1 pound ground beef

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and thoroughly mix.

Put a bit of olive oil onto hands and roll the mixture into approximately 16, 1½-inch meatballs.

Meatballs may be placed on a greased baking sheet and cooked for 20 minutes until browned in a 400 degree oven or cooked in a saute pan with one tablespoon of olive oil until browned and cooked through.

Serve as a meal with “Spaghetti” and Tomato Sauce or as a snack with Better Ranch Dip.