If you’ve been following Mom’s Bistro for a while, you know I am extremely passionate about fighting hunger in America. I’m really excited to share with you that tonight, I will be volunteering as a Chef Instructor for a Cooking Matters for Families class over the next six weeks. There is something so rewarding about teaching families how to cook delicious and healthy recipes and more importantly – how to do it together. Over the next six weeks, I will share a recipe or two with you from each class along with my experience, and the lessons that we learned.
Share Our Strength, who you’ve probably more commonly heard called No Kid Hungry, is a national organization that aims to end childhood hunger in America. Share Our Strength has numerous programs, including Cooking Matters. Cooking Matters empowers low-income families by giving them the skills they need to stretch their food budgets so that their children eat healthy, nutritious meals regularly at home through a hands-on interactive six-week cooking and nutrition course. Families learn how to shop smarter, make healthier choices, cook yummy meals and save money!
Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you need to spend $200 a week on all organic and grass-fed groceries each week, and one of my goals both personally and for this class is to teach families to get back into the kitchen, and to learn how to budget, plan, prepare and cook healthy budget-friendly meals that everyone will love.
In each Cooking Matters for Families class, we teach a cooking and a nutrition lesson and cook a meal together as a group. After each class each family gets to take home a bag of groceries in a reusable bag with enough food to recreate the meal we made in class at home. It’s their homework!
Many of the families in these classes use food assistance such as SNAP or WIC and/or count on food pantries to supply them with enough food just to get by. In America, 16 million children face hunger every day. Their parents struggle between paying the rent and utilities or paying for food. Children who do not have regular, healthy meals don’t do as well in school are more likely to get sick more often.
The Cooking Matters classes are a perfect fit for me, and my passion about food and fighting hunger. I am able to share my experience of knowing what it is like to have to choose between the bills and feeding your family and help teach families who are struggling how to budget for groceries and plan meals so that they will be able to serve healthy foods to their kids.
Our first class is about cooking and eating together as a family. I try to have my family cook with me at least once a week, and if I can get his attention, which usually isn’t too hard when it comes to food, I like to get Anthony to help me with at least one part of dinner every night. Cooking together as a families encourages them to make healthy meals that everyone will love. Our first recipe will be Turkey Tacos and Simple Pico de Gallo – it is Taco Tuesday after all! They are easy to make, and the whole family can get involved by prepping a different part of the meal. After we make and eat the delicious turkey tacos, a nutrition educator will teach the class about MyPlate. Tomorrow, I will share my experience in class and how it went, a little more about the nutrition education and a fantastic recipe for the leftovers from this meal.
In addition to learning how to cook the turkey tacos and pico de gallo, I will be teaching the class basic knife skills. Although they are usually over looked by a home cook, knife skills are so important, number one; for safety, and two; when you want to get the most out of your ingredients and stretch them as far as possible. Tonights basic knife skills lesson will include learning how to; dice an onion (without crying), seed and dice a tomato, chop cilantro and seed and dice a pepper. We will also be learning the importance of proper hand washing, and how to prevent food borne illness and accidents.
I wanted to make these turkey tacos first, before the class to make sure I knew what the heck I was doing. I was nervous to be honest with you because I am fairly a traditionalist when it comes to tacos. I like my tex-mex, classic ground beef tacos with cheese, salsa and lettuce, but I was excited to try something new and introduce my family to something new. I always sneak vegetables into whatever ground meat I am cooking, so when I saw that this recipe called for both zucchini AND tomatoes mixed into the meat, I knew I’d love it.
This recipe for turkey tacos is quick and easy and your kids will love it. It is loaded with fresh vegetables, but you can’t even tell they are in there. Making tacos as a family is a great way to get everyone involved.
Quick & Easy Turkey Tacos Recipe with Simple Pico de Gallo
Adapted From: Cooking Matters; Chef John Haddock
Serves: 8 with leftovers
For The Tacos:
1 lb lean ground turkey
1 15oz can pinto beans, drained
1 15oz can petite diced tomatoes (or regular diced tomatoes – but I like the petite diced for little mouths)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
…or skip chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and paprika and add 2.5 tbsp taco seasoning
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
shredded cheddar cheese
pico de gallo
For The Pico de Gallo:
4 roma tomatoes
1/4 red onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 tbsp garlic (1 clove)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp cumin
Making these tacos couldn’t be easier, and the kids can help with almost every single step. Even your youngest kids. Anthony helps me out all the time around the kitchen, and is able to do a lot of the tasks that older kids can do. Here are a few way your kiddos can help you out around the kitchen.
Cooking Side By Side – Cooking Tasks To Get Your Kids Involved in The Kitchen
- crack eggs
- measure out ingredients
- rinse, scrub and peel produce
- grate cheese and vegetables
- roll out and shape dough
- open cans
- stir ingredients in pots and pans
- use tongs to flip over foods
- pour ingredients while someone else stirs
- set and clear the table
- clean up and do the dishes
- gather ingredients and cooking equipment
Now that you know HOW to get the kids involved in the kitchen, it’s time to start cooking.
First, start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees. Place taco shells on a baking sheet in a single layer, and set aside.
Prepare vegetables for pico de gallo and tacos:
- Rinse and grate zucchini. Use a box grater, like one you would use to shred cheese. Shred into a bowl lined with paper towel, and squeeze to remove the extra liquid.
- Rinse and shred lettuce.
- Grate cheese.
- Rinse, core and dice tomatoes for pico de gallo. Slice tomatoes into quarters, and using a sharp knife, carefully cut away the seeds in a slow, sideways motion. Cut seeded tomato quarters into strips and then dice. Add diced tomatoes to a bowl and continue to step 5. You can save the tomato seeds, and any other vegetable scraps (other than peppers, really) and freeze them for an easy homemade vegetable stock.
- Next ingredient in the pico de gallo is the red onion. Finely dice onion, and add to bowl with diced tomatoes.
- To seed and chop the jalapeno for the pico do gallo, cut the top of the pepper off, and then cut vertically in half – think like a hot dog, not a hamburger. Use a spoon and over a trash can scrape out the seeds and ribs. Cut seeded jalapeno into thin strips and very finely mince. Add to bowl with tomatoes and onion.
- Chop cilantro very finely by keeping the tip of your knife on the cutting board and moving the blade back and forth until all of the leaves are finely chopped. Add to bowl with onion, tomatoes and jalapeno along with 1 tbsp minced garlic. I really like buying the already chopped garlic that is in oil – it is cheap and goes a long way, and saves a lot of work of chopping sticky garlic.
Finishing mixing Pico de Gallo. In the same bowl that your tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic and cilantro are in, add the juice of 1 lime, salt, pepper and cumin. Stir and set aside until you’re ready to eat.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add turkey and half of the spices, and cook, stirring constantly to break up all the clumps of turkey and mix in the seasoning.
Cook turkey for 5-8 minutes or until there is no more pink, and the meat is all broken up. It should look like how ground beef looks when you cook it.
Add zucchini, tomatoes and pinto beans and remaining spices to turkey. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, mix the veggies and beans with the turkey to really combine.
Reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened – about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, with about 8-10 minutes or so left of cooking time of your taco mixture, bake taco shells according to package directions. Remove from oven, and set aside until ready to serve.
To serve, add cooked meat mixture to each taco shell and top with grated cheese, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.
These turkey tacos were absolutely stinkin’ delicious. I couldn’t even tell there was beans, or vegetables in with the turkey, and adding the little bit of extra veggies and beans really stretched this pound of turkey far. We had a ton of leftovers – see what I did with those tomorrow! Anthony devoured his taco in 2.5 seconds it seemed. I can’t wait to see how the parents and kids in the Cooking Matters for Families class love these tacos on Tuesday!
If your family prefers soft tacos, go ahead and switch out the corn taco shells for whole wheat tortillas or even serve the meat mixture over a bed of brown rice for a burrito bowl!
Don’t like pinto beans? No problem. Substitute any kind of bean your family likes. Black beans and kidney beans would both make great additions to these tacos.
Top your turkey tacos with your favorite hot sauce for an extra kick, or add a some sour cream to cool them down.
Tomorrow I will have a full recap of the class, and some feedback from the families about what they liked and didn’t like about these tacos, but to be honest, I’m not sure what isn’t to like? These were fantastic, and so, so easy to make. I can’t wait to get into that classroom and start teaching!
UPDATE AFTER CLASS
Oh My Gosh! I am almost at a loss of words for how absolutely rewarding tonights class was. I just feel good all over knowing that just with one class, we have already helped and inspired families to make healthier choices and cook at home as a family.
Our class tonight started with introductions, and everyone getting to know each other. I think this was the hardest part for me – trying to introduce my self to the class. Our class has 17 people from 6 different families. The kids and parents introduced themselves and told everyone what their favorite food was and what they wanted to learn over the next six week. I was very, very impressed by some of the answers – both for favorite foods and learning expectations.
Here are some of the kids favorite foods. They are all pretty darn common, especially for kid-favorites, so I am going to keep all of these foods in the back of my head for our classes to come. Maybe we can learn how to make spaghetti sauce, and I can share a recipe for lasagna that families can make at home? Ohhh the possibilities are endless.
– chocolate —> it really should be it’s own food group, shouldn’t it?
and my favorite answer: vegetables!
We also spoke about what everyone wanted to learn, and for the most part, families wanted to learn how to make healthier meals, on a budget. And, they want their kids involved in the cooking process. Cooking with kids is SO important, and tonights class really saw how magical cooking as a family can be. It was like for the hour we cooked, everyones worries disappeared, and everyone really focused on family, and making dinner – together. It was great to see the interaction between everyone, in a fun, stress-free environment.
There was one family in particular who you could tell from the moment they walked in the door that some of the kids weren’t havin’ it. There was no stinkin’ way they were going to have fun in a cooking class. Well by the end of the night, these kids were so engaged in every step, and one of them even made a new friend with another boy in class. It was so sweet to see these kids; these families come together through cooking dinner together.
Many of these families cannot afford to put dinner on the table every night and rely on SNAP and food banks (click here to find a food bank in your area) to provide meals, so they are looking for alternatives. A better way to feed their family healthy and delicious meals and still afford rent, and utilities and medical bills.
After our introductions, I talked about proper hand washing and knife safety, and then we had a quick demo. I taught everyone how to cut an onion without crying, and how to cut and seed a tomato without smooshing it. Everyone seemed to catch on pretty quickly and were very eager to get cooking. Becky, our coordinator explained the importance of mis en place, and what it meant and how we used it tonight to make the turkey tacos and pico de gallo.
Once the demo was over it was time to cook. We broke up in to groups, and everyone prepared a different part of dinner. Some people shredded carrots and sweet potatoes to add to the filling of the tacos, some shredded lettuce, some diced tomatoes, onions and peppers.
Myself, our nutrition guru and the two amazing assistants walked around the classroom helping everyone out and making sure that everyone was doing ok and asked questions relating to the meal. We asked what they would do different if they made it at home, and how they would add their own flair. Many families told us that they wanted it spicier. Once the veggie prep was done, we started browning the ground turkey, and cooking it. It was really cute, we had a mother and son team who kicked some serious butt cooking this filling. Next was the veggies, and then the beans and tomatoes and lastly the seasoning. We let it cook for about 10 minutes while the other families shred cheese and set out a tower of taco shells. I really wish I got a picture of this one!
It was time to eat. That is when this class really hit home to me. You could tell just how hungry some of these people were, and how being there tonight, teaching this class and sharing the little bit of knowledge I have was really making a difference in their lives. Everyone absolutely loved the tacos, and were very impressed with the results. The kids were telling me how shocked that they were that they couldn’t taste the vegetables, and how much they loved everything. One kiddo even had 4th’s!
It was a great recipe to share for the first class, and I am excited to hear everyones experience making these tacos at home in next week in class. I’m even more excited to hear what they did with the leftovers since this recipe makes so much filling. For 17 people, we used 2 lbs of ground turkey, 2 cans of beans and 2 cans of tomatoes… so a double recipe and it fed everyone at least two tacos. Like I said some kids had 3rd’s and 4th’s.
I feel really, really good. Tonight made a difference, and it showed what a difference it makes when you cook together as a family. Everyone was sent home with a bag of groceries with all of the ingredients that we used in tonights class so that they can work together as a family and make a delicious meal without the stress of worrying whats for dinner, or if there will be enough food for everyone to be full. (Didn’t get a picture of this either)
I shared some money saving tips, a couple printables with everyone in the class tonight and my February 2014 Month of Meals which has 28 days of no-repeat dinners for $148 and a grocery list. I am just so excited for next weeks class! Next week we are making Easy Asian Noodle Stir Fry and will get to do a fun taste test! I can’t wait!