By Steph Rodriguez
Founder and chief food genius of the Sacramento nonprofit the Food Literacy Center, Amber Stott, aims to inspire kids to eat their fruits and veggies by helping them gain confidence in the kitchen.
Food Literacy Center
2973 3rd Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
On a mission to encourage kids to eat their veggies, Amber Stott, founder and chief food genius at the Food Literacy Center, wants children to enjoy the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables and also gain confidence in the kitchen. In 2011, she started the nonprofit in response to the rise in childhood obesity in the community. With a staff of more than 20 food geniuses made up of AmeriCorps and community volunteers, the Food Literacy Center team teaches 45-minute cooking and nutrition classes to nine low-income elementary schools in the region. In partnership with Dignity Health, Soil Born Farms and the Sacramento City Unified School District, the collective also began its F.E.A.S.T program where they choose a star vegetable for the month and it’s introduced to children on the school’s lunch menu, in the after-school Food Literacy classes, and also kids are shown recipes on how they can incorporate the month’s star veggie into a meal at home. With all these entities working in conjunction to introduce kids to new and healthy choices during and after-school, Stott says she hopes her little foodies will develop healthy eating habits and also inspire their households’ dinner time possibilities.
“I decided that the missing piece was cooking. We’re working with kids who are largely food insecure and have never seen things like broccoli and carrots before,” Stott says. “They’re learning nutrition, they’re learning about parts of the plant, where their food comes from, and most importantly, we’re helping them learn the habit of eating fruits and vegetables so that it will stick with them for life and keep them healthy.”
With experiences growing and cooking her own food at a young age, Stott shares five tips for easy breakfast meals that kids can prepare themselves and take charge in the kitchen–with a little help from mom and dad, of course.
Avocado, Tomato Salad With Egg
Stott recommends that parents purchase a set of kid-friendly plastic knives that aren’t super sharp, but will cut through soft fruits and vegetables like bananas, avocados or beautiful, ripe tomatoes (especially, this season’s heirlooms).
“I want people to think outside of the sweet box when it comes to breakfast and think about vegetables and savory items,” Stott says.”Fruit is a real easy go-to, but people often forget the vegetables, especially with kids, it’s critical that we start introducing them to vegetables repeatedly at a very early age so that they develop a palate for those bitter flavors.”
An easy breakfast idea recommended by Stott is an avocado and tomato salad topped with a scrambled or fried egg. Lay out a cutting board and ask your child to cut an avocado and a tomato into half-inch cubes and toss them into a bowl. Ask a parent to help with an egg to top the salad with for some extra protein.
“If you have any herbs growing, let the kid tear any type of herbs: cilantro, basil, parsley. That adds a little flavor to it as well,” Stott says.
Peanut Butter Toast With Fresh Fruit
Another great idea is to ask your child to toast a slice or two of whole wheat bread and spread sun butter, peanut butter, or almond butter on the toasty surface and then top it with fresh bananas, strawberries, apple slices or blueberries.
“Most kids love a peanut butter sandwich, but swap out the jelly for fresh fruit slices. Give the kids those plastic knives and let them slice their own,” Stott says. “It’s super easy and really great and kids love to make it.”
Bean and Veggie Breakfast Wrap
Stott says another great food to remember in the morning is beans and if mom or dad will assist with making an egg, beans are a great option to serve during breakfast.
“This is an easy one that kids can make. Get a tortilla, some refried or whole beans, let the kid spread some beans and have an adult make an egg to put on top of that or any variety of fresh vegetables right now,” Stott says. “It’s great with carrots, a little bit of cheese, a handful of spinach and the egg makes for a nice breakfast wrap.”
Stott says to take advantage of the seasonal produce that the Sacramento regions offers to change up the flavors of any breakfast wrap and to also consider some new tortilla options like corn and wheat or even spinach and tomato.
“A great tip for parents is to have a variety of fruits and vegetables available and just let kids pick. They’re more likely to eat something if they’re making it themselves or if they’ve picked it themselves,” Stott says.
Oatmeal With Fresh Fruit
Kids can get a little math lesson in during breakfast preparations by measuring out the dry oats or a teaspoon of cinnamon into a bowl. Then, they can use their safe knives to chop up fresh apple and banana slices or sprinkle some raisins as toppings while mom or dad watches the water boil on the stove.
“They can help stir everything together at the end once you take it off the stove and it will keep them full for a long time,” Stott says. “You definitely want kids to start off with a non-sugary, whole food type of breakfast. So, something with some greens and some fruits and vegetables is ideal and then they’ll maintain their energy longer because kids get hungry before that lunch bell, so starting them off with a sugary breakfast is the best way to get them to fall asleep at their desk.”
Warm Up With Creamy Polenta
Instead of oatmeal, make this warm, cornmeal-based polenta breakfast bowl with herbs like fresh basil or oregano stirred into the polenta mix as it’s cooking. Stott says spices like black pepper and cumin pair well with caramelized onions and greens like spinach or kale in this alternative breakfast dish. What’s more, top with an egg to give it that classic breakfast time touch.
“It’s really important for parents not to forget those savory breakfasts and those vegetables because you want kids eating vegetables throughout the day,” Stott says. “I even eat this for dinner or for lunch, too. But, I love this for breakfast.”