By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

Wow, this past week was absolutely INCREDIBLE! It was the grand opening for many of our camp’s pop up restaurants, and our young chefs certainly didn’t disappoint! Our talented kid chefs cooked up a storm and served their families and friends some amazing dishes, including:

  • Homemade focaccia starter
  • Roasted carrot, fennel, and lentil appetizer
  • Eggplant braciole with salsa verde
  • Cucumber Mojito, and 
  • Mixed berry pie with homemade ice-cream.

Plus, let’s not forget about all the nutritious and satisfying lunches they gobbled up throughout the week AND the delicious treats they got to bring home to their families each and every night! From international-inspired salads to vegetarian burgers to apple upside down (and right-side-up) cakes – our chefs-to-be really showcased their incredible culinary talents. My favourite thing about this week was the focus on savoury AND sweet. This program demonstrates what a balanced and healthy lifestyle looks like on a daily basis. The program encourages our students to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, homemade grain products, and whole dairy ingredients, while still occasionally indulging in a few freshly baked sweets. 

The first day of camp started with a bang! Many of our young chefs were skeptical about the vegetable fajitas and summer avocado salad. They weren’t too enthusiastic about the thought of eating a plate full of veggies. After a little encouragement, our fearless young chefs were brave enough to take a few small bites – and after that, they were hooked! Almost all of the students LOVED the fresh vegetables on their plates – and many came back for seconds and thirds! Seeing all of our young chefs appreciate the amazing flavours of fresh produce made me so happy! Even better? They were excited to have the chance to cook the same dishes for their families at home – now that’s a BONUS! If you haven’t already done so, please ask your young chef about their favourite vegetable dishes. I’m sure they’d love to teach you what they learned, and together you can enjoy a yummy and nutritious meal!

Sincr our chefs loved the fajitas and summer salad so much, I asked them for some of their own recommendations – what would they add to their fajita at home? Below are some of the camper’s ideas for Healthy Fajita Toppings (and we think they’re pretty awesome!). I’ve also added in a few of my own recommendations for specific dietary needs!

  • Chicken
  • Lentils
  • Fresh tomato (or cherry tomatoes)
  • Corn
  • Black beans
  • Cucumber
  • Edamame 
  • Duck or turkey breast (thinly sliced)
  • My recommendations:
    • General: Add some sauteed pineapple chunks with black beans (a pineapple and black bean salsa sort of thing) – it’ll add a nice hint of sweetness, and some extra vitamin C, potassium and fibre! 
    • Higher Protein: Try adding tofu, beans, or a sliced meat product to the recipe. Marinade and cook the protein the same way you marinade and cook the mushrooms. 
    • Gluten Free: Try substituting the tortilla with a lettuce cup, or serving the fajita mix on a bed of brown rice, a scoop of quinoa, or one-half of a roasted sweet potato. 
    • Vegetarian: This recipe is already vegetarian, but if you want to boost the protein add some tofu, edamame, or black beans. Alternatively, keep the same fajita mix, but serve it on top of a black bean tortilla or a scoop of quinoa and top with a handful of toasted almonds.
    • When you have leftovers: Try mixing the fajita mix in with a batch of scrambled eggs. Serve in a warm tortilla or on a piece of toast for a quick and healthy breakfast!

Whatever you choose, you really can’t go wrong with the Rooks to Cooks fajita and tortilla recipes – they’re SO yummy and super easy to whip up in a flash. Have your young chef help you out, and you’ll be enjoying a delicious dinner in no time.

On the second day of camp, we made an impressive menu featuring a soba noodle salad, crispy tofu, and sprinkle cookies! Our young chefs absolutely LOVED the soba noodle salad and crispy tofu – again, they came up for two or three servings! They were amazed by all the nutritious ingredients in the soba noodle salad, for example: 

  • Cabbage – rich in vitamin A, C and K, calcium, and magnesium
  • Carrots – packed with vitamin A
  • Edamame – filled with protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and phytoestrogens that may aid in preventing some cancers
  • Soba noodles – made with buckwheat and high in protein and manganese! 
Our young chefs learning proper knife skills.

Without hesitation, they gobbled up the salad (and all of its nutrients) to fuel their bodies for the rest of the day! The crispy tofu was also a crowd pleaser. The protein-packed vegetarian tofu cubes were dredged in cornstarch and shallow fried for a crispy texture. They were served with a bit of homemade sweet and spicy sauce for a perfect (and quick) way to enjoy a serving of complete protein. The cool thing is, tofu contains ALL essential amino acids and plenty of iron – so you’re not missing out on the nutrients you would get from meat products! The last recipe of the day was our famous Sprinkle cookies! This one was obviously DELICIOUS – sugary cookies topped with fun and colourful sprinkles will never disappoint. The only thing that could make this dessert even better is if it had a fun and healthy twist. I challenged our young chefs to come up with a healthy cookie topping to try out at home (to replace the sprinkles). We had some very creative ideas that sounded soooo good, we’ll have to try them out for ourselves – STAT! Check these out: 

  • Mix dried cranberries or dried mango into the cookie mix
  • Top with homemade strawberry jam and fresh mint (Tip: to make a quick at-home jam, heat up one cup of frozen fruit in a pot until it is soft. Blend until smooth, then add 1tbsp chia seed. Let sit until thickened and cooled, then chill and enjoy!)
  • Top with fresh squeezed lemon and basil leaves
  • Fold blueberries into the batter
  • Serve with sliced grapefruit
  • Roll the dough in shredded coconut (you can even use food colouring to make coconut “sprinkles” for a little fun)
  • Replace the water with coconut water for a few extra vitamins and minerals
  • Chef Rebecca: Use two cookies and spread a homemade mixed fruit compote in between – YUM!
  • Chef Kenzie: Make an “ice cream” sandwich with two cookies and banana “ice cream” (blend a frozen banana to make a smooth ice-cream-like texture). Roll the sandwich in dark chocolate shavings (for added antioxidants and polyphenols) and enjoy!

All in all, there are endless possibilities for a fun twist on a classic cookie dessert. Play around with ideas with your young chef and create your own special healthy combo. Your body will thank you, and your heart will be filled with joy – I promise! 

Day three rolled around with yet another delicious lunch menu!  Our young chefs worked hard in the morning to prepare a Quiche from scratch (the dough was prepared earlier in the week), and a refreshing apple, fennel, celery salad. Once again, we had some skeptical campers who were hesitant to try the vegetable-rich salad – but they were pleasantly surprised by the bright and refreshing summer-inspired flavours! There wasn’t much hesitation about the quiche – our young chefs couldn’t wait to try the cheesy, rich pie (they didn’t even mind the spinach and onions snuck inside). Many chefs came back for seconds and thirds, and were enthusiastic about sharing their food with their friends and families at home. We couldn’t be more excited to be introducing all these young and talented chefs to a wide assortment of fresh vegetables and fruits, homemade whole grains, and healthy fats that they can incorporate into their diets each and every day. 

Below is a quick recap of the recipes we made this week and a few featured healthy ingredients. In addition, I’ve included some of my own suggestions to bump up the nutritional value of each meal just a tad more. If you have any questions regarding substitutions or replacements for ingredients, please feel free to reach out to me at kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. I can offer some tips and tricks to make the recipes suit your dietary restriction – so you can enjoy the same recipe, and of course, get all of those essential nutrients!

  • Crispy tofu: Tofu is a complete protein AND contains plenty of iron. Try dipping it in an egg wash followed by crumbled unsweetened cereal – bake for 15 minutes at 350F (or until nice and crispy) and enjoy! Throw some veggies in the same pan for an easy baked one-pan dinner. Of course, don’t forget our delicious sauce to top!
  • Spinach and Feta Quiche: Eggs are one of the best protein sources! In fact, eggs have ALL the essential amino acids your body needs, and it scores 100 on the biological value rating (a measure of protein quality). The quality of other proteins is compared to an egg to determine it’s protein quality how easily your body can utilize the proteins from the food). If you want a quick and easy gluten-free crust, you can use sweet potato slices! Simply slice some sweet potatoes, toss them in a bit of olive oil and arrange them to cover the bottom of a pie pan. Bake at 450F for about 10 minutes, until crisp. Add the quiche filling and follow the rest of our recipe for a delicious gluten-free quiche (with an added dose of vitamin A).
  • Cinnamon buns: Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show cinnamon may reduce the risk of heart disease and can improve sensitivity to insulin (which may, in turn, reduce sugar cravings). Try adding some apple slices into the filling of your cinnamon bun for a bit more vitamin C and fibre.
  • Baked sweet potato fries: Sweet potatoes are jam-packed with vitamin A, vitamin B6, fibre, and potassium. This recipe also uses olive oil (a fat that has a balanced omega-3:omega-6 ratio to promote heart health). Enjoy this as a perfect side for a yummy summer family BBQ.
  • Black bean burgers: Black beans are high in protein, fibre, and iron. The combination of black beans and brown rice makes a complete protein (meaning together, they contain ALL of the essential amino acids your body needs). So, this burger is PERFECT for vegetarians who are looking for ways to get enough protein into their diet. But, even if you’re not a vegetarian, you certainly won’t be missing the meat with this recipe – it’s so darn good! Serve with fresh guacamole and a poached egg for some healthy fats and a bit more protein (and a delicious summer burger!)
  • Mixed berry pie: Just look at all those antioxidants and vitamins! Be creative with your favourite fruits and mix it up – try replacing the berries with strawberries and mango, strawberry rhubarb, banana coconut, or blueberry almond! Or, simply sprinkle on some trail mix, toasted coconut, or roasted seeds for some added healthy fats and a nice crunchy finish!

Alright folks, there you have it! This week was definitely one that I was super-excited about and I knew it was going to be DELICIOUS with all the fresh salads, make-it-from-scratch recipes, and wholesome ingredients. I was so happy to see all of our young chefs devour their nutritious lunches with BIG smiles on their faces. I hope you and your chefs-to-be continue to make these meals at home, and maybe even come up with your own spin on our classic recipes! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we thank you for joining us for this fun-filled (and yummyyyy) week – we look forward to seeing you again soon to whip up some more delicious treats!

Stay tuned: More Bits and Bites coming next week with highlights from Sweet and Savoury Sr.