This month on CBC Radio One’s Alberta at Noon I’ll be talking about the importance of cooking skills for children. I believe cooking is a basic life skill that determines how healthy an individual and in turn a family will be.
A lack of ability to cook from scratch leads to a life dependent on processed foods. Processed foods are more likely to contain excess salt, sugar and food additives and a diet filled with processed foods is more likely to cause obesity.
Harvard University says the health consequences of obesity include heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, asthma, some cancers, susceptibility to depression due to discrimination and the emotional impact of that. Thirty per cent of youth are now obese.
We are three generations since the norm was a stay at home homemaker and cook for each family. Many parents (let alone their children) lack cooking skills beyond reheating, microwaving and combining packaged foods. Women in the 1960s were told cooking was a chore and they needed to be emancipated from the kitchen. Women did go out to work but instead of “freedom” they now work outside the home and still do the majority of household work as well. Equal partnerships are slow to evolve. Reframing cooking as a family activity and a creative way to nurture, care and ensure health for ourselves and our children could go a long way to correcting our society’s obesity epidemic.
I developed the Polenta lasagna recipe in this post to act as a cooking skills bridge from reliance on highly processed packaged food to cooking with healthier choices. The result is a fun assembly of quality ingredients with delicious results. Older children can make it on their own. Parents and younger children can make this together.
Time: 1 hour including prep
Yield: 6 – 8 servings
This recipe is fun for kids because it is fast, easy to make and delivers a powerful punch of flavour and nutrition that kids will eat because they made it themselves. Let them look through the step by step photos at the end of the recipe and they’ll master this recipe just as my own son did.
300 gram package plain goat cheese chèvre (may substitute cow’s milk ricotta)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained – see tip below*
1 kg log of prepared polenta, cut into 24 slices
1 (24 oz – 720 mL) bottle tomato sauce ( I like the Rega Passata brand in the tall glass bottle because they use those sublimely tasty San Marzano tomatoes)
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces mozzarella – shredded
½ cup finely cut fresh basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 400°F and coat an 11 X 7” glass baking dish with cooking spray.
Combine the goat cheese, red pepper flakes and spinach in a mixing bowl.
Pour about a quarter of the bottle of tomato sauce on the bottom of the glass dish and spread it to cover the surface.
Arrange 12 slices of polenta on the tomato base and top with the all of the goat cheese mix followed by another quarter of the tomato sauce.
Place the remaining polenta on top, cover with the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with the mozzarella and Parmesan.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is bubbly and golden – about another 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle with the basil and let it sit about 10 minutes before serving.
Enjoy with a crisp green salad and a bold red wine (parent’s reward!)
Tip: Put the 3 frozen packs of spinach in a glass bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Drain the water and then place the spinach in a clean tea towel. Hold the towel over a sink or bowl and twist it until all the water comes out.
Note: Sometimes I add a few tablespoons of pesto, sundried tomatoes or sun dried tomato pesto to the goat cheese mixture just to change it up a bit.