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Spinach Pesto and the Power of Preparing Foods in New Ways

I am currently co-teaching a cooking class to a group of 6-9 year olds. Our goals have been helping all of the kids to gain confidence in the kitchen, introducing them to new healthy foods, and exploring new foods and food preparations.


Over the course of the past weeks we have been working with them to be open to trying new foods, even if the foods being offered are ones that they would normally be resistant to eating. We have done this in a few ways.



1)   As a class we all agreed that we would try very hard not to use words such as “gross” or “yuck” and phrases such as “I don’t like it.” We talked about how we didn’t want to make anyone feel badly about their tastes and also about how sometimes when you hear someone make a negative comment about a food it can influence how you then taste the food.

2)   No one is ever forced to try a food and they are always welcome to quietly spit it out into a napkin if they don’t like it. This created a sense of safety and, amazingly, everyone has tried everything we have made!

3)   We have been exploring flavor and food. Over the course of a number of classes we have played with a base ingredient and then added different flavors to make different dishes. For instance, with yogurt we made a sweet yogurt dip and we made a tzatziki. With chickpeas we made hummus and maple-roasted chickpeas. By doing this, the kids have begun to understand the power of preparation—that even a food that may not normally be a favorite can become delicious if it is made differently than we are used to.

So this week we decided to push them a little bit! In the first class one of the questions I asked was: what are your favorite foods and what are foods that you either are not so sure about or that you don’t enjoy eating? Almost everyone in the class named spinach as their least favorite food. So this week we made two recipes with spinach.

In order to try to make everyone comfortable we sat down together before cooking and I laid the groundwork. I reminded them of the ways that we had explored making foods taste differently, I reminded them about how we taste foods and respond to them, and then I told them with a lot of enthusiasm about the dishes we were going to make using spinach: a mock-mint chocolate chip ice cream and pesto for mini-bagel pizzas.

Some kids were quite nervous to be working with spinach, but they all remained engaged and open. The mock-ice cream was an easier sell because it was such a fun and novel idea, but the pesto was definitely a stretch for some kids. As we made the pizzas with the pesto, I gave each kid control over how much pesto they wanted on their pizza, and to my surprise everyone was willing to have at least a little bit. They were also invited to taste the pesto before they spread it on their bagel. It was wonderful to see their faces as they tried the dreaded spinach in both of its forms and discovered that they LOVED it.

spinach pesto

I’m not expecting the major spinach haters of the group to suddenly be willing to eat steamed spinach at the dinner table, but I do hope that this experience will help to take at least some of the fear away and that perhaps they will be a little bit more open when they encounter spinach the next time.

There were two lessons that really came home to me in this experience. One was the power of setting the scene for trying new foods. By remaining pressure-free and fun about it the kids were able to feel in control and, therefore, remain open. The other was importance of trying different methods of preparation. If you’ve got a spinach hater, or even if you don’t, I highly recommend this spinach pesto recipe as a fun way to use this healthy leafy green vegetable!

Spinach Pesto

Jessica Braider
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Course Sauce
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup parmesan
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Place all the ingredients into a food processor and process until it forms a paste. Taste for seasoning.
  • Use as a pizza base, in sandwiches, or on pasta

Notes

If using for pasta, save a bit of the pasta water to help to mix the sauce into the pasta

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