Please pass the (cowboy) caviar: Jefferson Elementary kids cook with their parents

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Friday, March 17, 2017

JANESVILLE—On Thursday, March 16, a 6-year-old ate a kidney bean—and liked it.

He liked it better than any of the other items on his plate, marking the first time in history a kindergartner picked a kidney bean over a raisin.

We'll get back to this extraordinary child later.

That same night, Jefferson Elementary School in Janesville held its second “cooking with kids” night.

The event featured a short class for parents on planning meals and saving money. Then kids joined their parents to create an easy dinner that included all five food groups—and no hassles.

The event is funded through a nutrition grant the school received, and school staff are supported by Rock County UW Extension nutrition educators.

The nutrition educators lead the classes and the cooking. They also come to the school during the week to talk about healthy eating.

Thursday's meal included cowboy caviar, a dish that includes brown rice, kidney beans, black beans, corn, chopped green chilies, chopped onions and limes: protein, healthy grains and vegetables.

Dessert featured rice pudding with chilled brown rice, yogurt, applesauce, raisins and pineapple juice: healthy grains, dairy and fruit.

The kids emptied cans and mixed. The nutrition educators heated up the cowboy caviar, and voila! Dinner was served.

Now for the young man and his bean.

His name is Zekodi Allen, and he was attending the event with his mother, Christie Potter.

The two of them had already mixed together what was to be their dessert, so they were ready to talk food.

What is his favorite?

“Cherries,” Zekodi said.

And he meant real cherries, not cherry-flavored something in a can.

“We both like to watch cooking shows like 'Chopped' and 'Chopped Junior' and the 'Kids Baking Championship,'” Potter said. “At home, he sometimes says to me, 'Look what I've mixed together.'”

“Chopped” is the Food Network show in which cooks are given a basket of ingredients that includes at least one odd one, such as goat brains, sea cucumbers or Marmite.

Here's something else Zekodi likes: a half-and-half blend of mashed potatoes and cauliflower, a mixture that caused some members of the media to recoil in horror.

On Thursday, Zekodi dove fearlessly into his food. The sweet rice pudding was OK but needed cinnamon, he told his mom.

And out of all the items in the rice dish, he like the kidney beans best. He picked them out one at a time and ate them with a thoughtful expression on his face.

Many kids said they help their parents cook at home.

Julian Castellanos, 10, a fourth-grader, makes scrambled eggs at home.

His favorite food is carrots—who are these children?— but he also enjoys his mom's pizza pasta.

Julian and his mom, Tricia Rodriguez, like the food nights.

“I get to mix together different things and try something I haven't tried before,” Julian said.

His mom likes the opportunity to do something with just him.

“He's got a lot of sisters,” Rodriguez said. “It's nice to have some alone time.

While the cooking and nutrition education is important, Jefferson's physical education teacher Corey Kelly said bringing families into the school was an important part of building a community and connecting with parents.

She doesn't think nutrition is a particular problem at Jefferson, but she does believe there's a lot of misinformation out there.

“You know, kids will say, 'Gatorade is good for you' or 'Fruit snacks are healthy,'” said Kelly. “But Gatorade has a lot of sugar, and fruit snacks don't have any fruit in them."

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