Nutritionist offers colorful tips for cooking with the kids

Vineyard dietitian Josh Levy slices mango to mix into a quinoa and edamame salad. — Photo by Michelle Williams

From a parent to a parent, nutritionist Josh Levy offered advice for how to eat healthfully when cooking for a family at a family cooking workshop hosted by the YMCA on May 30. The event was the first of a series of workshops on healthy cooking made possible by a grant from Mass in Motion.

Mr. Levy prepared three dishes for a small audience last Wednesday. Each member of the group got to taste the results.

Mr. Levy, of Vineyard Nutrition in Edgartown, is a registered dietitian with a masters degree in human nutrition. Additionally, he has hands-on experience. “I have two little ones at home,” he said, “so I know the challenge of cooking in the chaos.”

A key to calming chaos in the kitchen is planning, according to Mr. Levy. He recommended preparing meals during the weekend, at a time when both parents and children are available. “Sunday is really your golden time,” Mr. Levy said. “Cooking during the weekend will allow you to relax after getting home from basketball on Wednesday night.”

By preparing dishes in advance, Mr. Levy said, parents can have meals on the table within the hour and “bring children to the table to sit down for dinner.”

When both parents and kids are at the table, Mr. Levy said children should have a “kid-friendly,” small plate. He cited a recent study by Cornell University which showed that when people eat on a larger plate or container, they eat 45 percent more.

As Mr. Levy prepared a healthy take on a chicken and broccoli casserole, Dawn Sayne, a mother living on the Island, expressed her frustration about picky eaters. “I end up making the most boring food. It’s sad, but I’m so sick of it,” she said.

While pouring whole wheat pasta into a dish, Mr. Levy recommended starting with the basics, preparing a simple dish that allows family members to add different spices they like to their plate. Involving children in the cooking process gets them interested in food, Mr. Levy said. He recommended starting slow, for example, allowing a small child to use a salad spinner. Eventually, children can “work their way up to a knife to cut vegetables.”

The second course he prepared for the group was a quinoa and edamame salad. Carina Cataloni, a fourth-grade student at Edgartown School, gave the salad a smile and a good review. She attended the workshop with her mother, Glenda.

The colorful dish featured reds, yellows, and greens and took Mr. Levy less than 15 minutes to make. Adding colors to a dish can help make a child excited about food, he said. “In the morning I’ll ask my kids what color they want their oatmeal to be — pink, purple or red.” He purées berries based on his children’s morning color choices.

The final dish Mr. Levy prepared was fish tacos with roasted asparagus, which he chose to make because “we live on an island, we should be eating fish.”

The dish called for white fish which he said is easiest to convince children to eat, “it has a more neutral flavor,” he said.

Though it may take children time, Mr. Levy said they may eventually like new foods. “Taste buds change 15 times,” he said.

After trying the three dishes, parents left the event with new recipes and several new tricks in the kitchen.

For more information, email Noli Taylor, coordinator of Martha’s Vineyard farm-to-school program, Island Grown Schools, at