[Get Involved!] Lunch Break for Kids

This post is about something I’m very passionate about; therefore, it is long, a bit silly at times, and as heartfelt as can be.  The fact that you’re reading this right now means the world to me.
When I think about my family, food is always one of the first things to come to mind.  And when I think of food?  It’s impossible not to think of my family!  Many of our baby foods were lovingly batch-cooked in my mother’s kitchen and we were raised to like, and eventually love, fruits and veggies.  No meal was complete without one or more varieties and, when necessary, my mom would do anything and everything to appease the varied [yet sometimes irrational!] palates of her four picky kiddos.  Though she humored us by whipping up our favorite dishes on repeat, her arsenal of colorful meals was absolutely endless.  She would experiment in the kitchen like a mad scientist in a lab and come up with the most amazing dishes without a recipe in sight.  Because [like most children] we were all as different as night and day, she had more than a few tricks up her sleeve.

To encourage us to try new vegetables, she would give our meals fun names while also educating us on what we were eating and why.  Spinach was served freshly-wilted with a teeny bit of butter, garlic, and salt and was dubbed “Pop-eye’s Spinach.”  We adored the cartoon, and when mom taught us spinach would help us to grow up smart and strong like Pop-eye, we were all over that stuff like white on rice, usually stopping mid-bite to flex our giant muscles.  To this day, my brother can’t get within two feet of spinach without singing the Pop-eye theme song.  And, as a true testament to her efforts, every single one of us has adored spinach since childhood.

When we went through our dreaded “No foods may touch each other!” phase, my mom was hot on our heels.  She spaced our foods at proper distance for the most part, but would still periodically mix a medley of veggies together [sometimes even mincing or pureeing them to prevent small fingers from picking out the good stuff], calling it “Alligator Stew.”  Oh yes, that was absolutely a song.  From Barney.  That we sang into the ground.  Why I never inherited her saint-like patience I’ll never know, but we sang… and we ate… and she smiled.

As and added bonus to her methods, we were always allowed to mix, stir, and taste ingredients as they went into our meals.  I grew bolder as the years passed, and would try to help myself to the veggies while they simmered away on the stove.  It’s not a memory easily forgotten when you have scars to remember it by 😉  I never was very patient.

Before I knew it, I was old enough to stop burning myself [for the most part] and start helping with more of the prep-work.  Stuffed Mushrooms were one of the first dishes my mom taught me how to make.  I vaguely remember thinking they were Snuffelupagus Mushrooms and had. to. have. them.  Writing this is making me very much aware that my history with veggies is strongly linked with television characters.  Pop-eye, Barney, Sesame Street, and Disney Movies aplenty all played a part in developing my family’s healthy eating habits.

side note: if only companies were banned from using cartoon characters to sell pop-tarts and sugary cereals and instead slapped Spongebob and Mickey Mouse stickers on fresh, frozen, and canned fruit and vegetables instead.  Some do… More should.

As for mealtime, we always ate dinner together. Most families reflect on a day’s events, but with four rambunctious elementary schoolers present, it was more of a contest of sorts.  The goal was to comically one-up each other until someone snorted so abruptly that milk shot out of their nose.  I had a flair for the dramatic and usually wound up rolling on the floor laughing and, yes, I’ve had my fair share of milk-related casualties.  Money was tight and my parents worked around-the-clock, often taking on 11-hour shifts apiece, but dinnertime… that was our time.

I’ve gotten gloriously off-track again, haven’t I?  I’m certain I could go on for days but, in an attempt to make a long story a little less Illiad-esque, I’ll wrap things up a bit.  Early education of healthy eating habits was essential to my development and also my love of produce.  It’s because of this that I later went on to study Dietetics, volunteered and worked alongside the Department of Education School Lunch and Breakfast program, and became a Nutrition Educator for families at WIC.  It’s even why I blog.  I live for this stuff!  Sweets were still consumed and never off-limits, though desserts were not a nightly expectation or occurrence.  We were picky, and opinionated, and at times a royal pain in the butt, but thanks to my mom, the focus was always the food.  And family.

Thanks mom =)

I absolutely believe that it’s important for kids to be educated on how to make healthy food choices and also for their families to help further their education and eating habits.  The Lunch Break for Kids fundraiser strives to do both by donating to the American Culinary Federation’s Chef & Child Foundation to create nutrition-based educational resources as well as support school and community outreach programs.

For a second year in a row, Hidden Valley is partnering with the American Culinary Federation to host this nationwide fundraiser to help parents and children come together with chefs and schools to learn how simple, good food can help us grow happy and healthy minds and bodies.  October 15-19th, chefs all over the US will host fundraisers to help create more resources for nutrition education programs that will encourage healthier eating in families and communities across the country.  They aim to encourage what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops since starting this blog: Veggie Love!  We want you to eat your veggies, love your veggies and share the veggie love with those around you.  Locations for the program span from coast to coast.  Here’s a list of participating communities — Get involved!

The Hidden Valley® Original Ranch®, dressings & dips has provided me with free product to help with my review, but anything I receive from Hidden Valley does not affect my thoughts on its company or their product.

Tomorrow [October 16th] the Chef & Child Foundation will be celebrating Childhood Nutrition Day to encourage community involvement and raise awareness for the importance of childhood nutrition education and healthy eating.  Hidden Valley put together a toolkit of activities for children that will help to further educate them on healthy eating habits.  These can be done at home, in the classroom, within childcare establishments, and in many community settings.  One activity, adorably dubbed “It’s Not Easy Being Green!“, allows them to sample three delicious greens while they learn about taste, texture, and the nutritional benefit of eating their greens.  My favorite, “The Rainbow Taste Test,” teaches kids about all the wonderful flavors of different colored fruits and vegetables and how much to strive for daily.  It’s colorful, hands-on, and a truly memorable experience for kiddos.  Pair it with this Fruit + Veggie Eater Meter and add to their education with fun activities and goals.
Rainbow Taste Test Game for Kids! - this PDF promotes healthy eating habits and encourages kids to try new fruits and veggies
click for the full PDF
Want to keep the rainbow going?  Here are a few veggie-centric recipes that have been kid-tested & approved by some of my amazing readers:  

[Lentil-Veggie Tacos] // [Quinoa “Fried Rice”] // [Spinach Stuffed Shells]

How did you start your love affair with veggies?
Does anyone else turn into a ball of giggles at the dinner table?  We can’t be the only ones!


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing your story! I also love the endless meal ideas my mom has :) My taste buds have changed dramatically over the past year so I am eating so many more veggies and healthy foods that I would not have gone near before. (Thanks to food blogs probably! And the fact that I’m 16?) But my mom always got veggies in our food. My favorites were her pasta salads, curries, stews, and roasted vegetables. I’ve started cooking veggies for HER now, woohoo! My family loves food and we are always talking about it and watching food network. I’d like to say that we are somewhat food savvy. But my dad is convinced that any fruity jam substance is called coulis. Hey, he’s not totally wrong. I am so thankful that we have a great variety of veggies available to us. The Lunch Break for Kids seems like an awesome program to get nutrients to kids across America!

    • says

      My taste buds keep changing [and getting more adventurous!] as I get older so I’d bet that yours will too! It’s fabulous! I’m so glad your family is showing tons of veggie love. It’s a great way to stay healthy and happy — keep rocking on Ali!

  2. says

    My Mom and Dad did the same thing with our foods (eventually … They started out by trying to force us to eat the veggies, then tried to hide them, but when neither of those worked, they got some better strategies). My favourite was always our rainbow pasta night (and I still LOVE reproducing it — I eat it almost daily now!!) we would have a pasta dish with either chicken or fish, but we would have veggies of EVERY colour tossed in there. So much fun and so yummy. We were each allowed to have two veggies that we legitimately didn’t like, but the rest had to be tolerated. Nowadays, I love them and can’t get enough of them. Can’t say the same for my brothers, but they’re guys in their 20s, they’ll grow back into veggies (that aren’t on pizza) eventually, I’m sure! :)
    Great cause, great story and great campaign!! I really hope for the best!! Here’s to starting kids off right!

  3. says

    My upbringing was quite different. We never sat down to eat together and veggies were pretty scarce considering we ate Taco Bell at least twice a week.
    I’ve learned to love veggies as an adult. I had to force myself in the beginning but I have slowly learned to love them and all the health benefits!

  4. says

    Ive been looking forward to reading this since I saw you post on facebook :-)
    and, not really joking, Im ok with the child nutrition here but WHEN is HUSBAND NUTRITION WEEK?!

  5. says

    I think our dinner table was the funnest, albeit sometimes most inappropriate place in the house. It was my parents, my two brothers, myself, and a whole lot of potty humor, and it was a great time. My mom also made dinner for us every night which I didn’t really appreciate back then, and she taught me how to bake.
    I think this is a great organization, and I’m so glad you put it out there. I will definitely look for ways to participate in my area. Great post.

  6. says

    I love everything about this post. I love it even more that as I type this, the peanut has squash smeared across her face, behind her bink, as she naps off the breakfast of squash and oats. My family ate their fair share of processed shite, but man oh man did we love our fresh garden tomatoes and rhubarb, not to mention green beans and brussels. YUM.

  7. says

    I love how you are so passionate. It makes me so excited to read about a project like this when I care so much about it as well. My family growing up was not too exciting when it comes to veggies. Getting my sister and I to eat all of them was like pulling teeth. Now I love my veggies and I hope someday (way) down the road, I can be as exciting with veggies as your family seemed to be. Thanks for this post. :)

  8. says

    I also got an early start on my love for veggies. Dinner was always family time when we sat at the table together, ate a home cooked meal and shared conversation. I don’t remember what we talked about but I do remember the food! We had a salad with dinner or for dinner almost every night. Every meat dish had at least one veggie side. My parents were part of a health food co op so we also had other healthy options like brown rice and nori seaweed. Dinner and healthy eating kind of deteriorated as I got older, but I think my parents set a good early example for me. :-)

    • says

      Veggie sides and daily salads sounds like a great way stay healthy at mealtime! And you grew up on brown rice and nori? That’s awesome! I think we all go through healthy eating deterioration phases but with strong roots like that, you’ll always find your way back! =)

  9. says

    my mom was always sure to tell us all the good things that food did for our bodies. I really think that, in combination with eating dinner together every night helped me develop the healthy habits I have now. But, I’d like to say one thing!

    My mom was NOT a good cook. She did her best, but she just doesn’t really enjoy cooking.

    Even still – she was able to make us all healthy eaters. So if you’re a parent don’t worry too much about it if you’re not stellar in the kitchen. It’s really the love, the time and effort that does it!

  10. says

    What a great story and a great cause – thanks for sharing! I’ve recently begun to see the impact all of my mom’s efforts to give us delicious and healthy homecooked meals has on me now and I’m so grateful. Share the veggie love!

  11. says

    This is a fabulously written post! If only I was reading it last year when I was in the classroom teaching a group of middle school students. It grosses me out that the public school systems consider french fries or tomato sauce on pizza servings of vegetables! True, they are, but they are not the best ways to nourish young bodies and brains… A treat every day is fine but a lunch only consisting of treats is not!

  12. says

    What a great post! My mom used to get me to eat broccoli by telling me it was specific trees out of our backyard. So for each floret she would have to describe a tree from out back…talk about patience! Luckily my son happily eats just about all veggies and fruits so I’ve been pretty lucky.

  13. says

    We had family dinners as well and I remember we BEGGED my mom to make spinach but she bought the canned kind and we were NOT impressed… unfortunately I did not try it again until I was on my own :) p.s. I love stuffing my face with your quinoa fried rice recipe

  14. says

    When I was a kid we didn’t eat veggies. Unless it was a can of corn or perhaps some mashed potatoes. My parents didn’t like them and that transferred onto us kids! When I was 16 and started eating dinner with my BF’s (now hubs) family, I started to venture into the world of green leafy veggies. 12-13 yrs later I am close to making the jump into a full vegetarian diet. How did that happen?!?

    With my kids I make it game. I explain to them what each food does for the their bodies and health. They WANT to eat their veggies and other food groups so they grow big and strong… we may or may not even have some tests through out dinner…. “I just ate a bite of my broccoli, I wonder if I’m stronger now?” They will then proceed to stand up and lift their chair or the corner of the table just to prove it.

    • says

      That’s amazing Carrie!!! I’m so glad your tastes have evolved – and you’re flirting with vegetarian eats? Wonderful! I adore how you make mealtime fun and educational for your kiddos! You should get that on video! Too cute!

  15. says

    I love this! My wife and I are currently trying for our first kid and since I am the food fanatic cook in the house, we plan that I will stay home to raise our kid. We don’t want to subject our future kid to daycare and feel like it’s best to have one of us around in the early years.

    The way you described how your mom cared for you and your siblings is exactly how I hope to be. It’s awesome how well you were all raised to enjoy healthy foods and not feel forced to eat them. I love my mom to death, and she had to raise me on her own, but my diet had a lot of fast food and packaged meals.

    I turned to healthy eating after making small changes when training for my first marathon and noticing how much better I felt and recovered. It was addicting and I couldn’t stand to eat anything really processed now.

    Again, great post, I agree with everything!

  16. says

    I LOVE this post and couldn’t agree more. I am a stickler when it comes to how my boys eat. I have actually been criticized many times for being to strict. But, thats when I like to share how rarely my kids are sick, how they eat their veggies, they’ve never had juice or soda, and they are happy and healthy:) Still to this day my 4 year old will pick water/milk over anything! I love that your mom put a fun twist on eating healthy:) My mom was good about teaching us to eat our veggies and the importance of doing so. I remember picking our veggies from the garden as a kid and hating it….now I appreciate it so much. And I agree with you on why they don’t put mickey mouse and lightning mcqueen on more veggie items and healthy snacks…what the heck?!:)

  17. says

    I love this post so much! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read your blog and wondered to myself, “How can I get our future kiddos to love their veggies like she does?” I love how your mom made eating veggies fun, and I hope that I’ll be able to do that for our kids one day. Growing up, my family (both parent’s & my brother) grew up eating dinner together every night. Neither one of my parent’s were into health (and still really aren’t) so I was the same as I grew up. I distinctly remember my mom forcing me to eat squash casserole one night, and then I yacked it up on her dining room carpet (who has carpet in their dining room?!?) so, needless to say, she never forced me to eat veggies again! Luckily, I have absolutely grown to love veggies! I couldn’t live with out brussels sprouts, green beans, or sugar snap peas…or red bell pepper, pumpkin, butternut squash…yum, yum, yum. The only things I can’t really handle are mushrooms (ick!) and raw onions. Now I want a baby so he/she can grow up and we can have family dinners together! 😉

  18. says

    Cute story! My mom had and still has wayyy more patience than I do, too. Maybe one day when I have a kiddo or two, the patience will come naturally? :)

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