The Children’s Real Food Revolution has Begun. And I Started it! Summer Camp Menu and Recipes!
Posted on 18th of August, 2013 by Lévana
My summer was off to a very poor start this year, with some emergency repairs in my apartment which left us for almost a month living in a decor Robin Williams would call “the refugee motif”. So you can imagine with what anticipation I ran out to the train station once a week, for the trip from home to the Arts Camp in Crown Heights Brooklyn, run by Naomi Levin, her lovely sisters and several other lovely counselors. The only thing that topped my excitement at the idea of seeing the children was their own at seeing me. I happily throw myself back almost half a century on camp days. Instead of making me feel ancient, it gives me youth and energy. The kids just know how much I love them!
I have had some very young assistants over the years. Just take a look at little Estee Blum, Rabbi Yonah and Keren Blum’s daughter at Chabad Columbia: She prepped my cooking demos with me all of last summer, she cooks, she blogs, even reviews restaurant dinners. Darling child, so proud of her!
It is the second summer that I spend a day a week with the camp children, so you might call us buddies. Last summer camp we combined cooking and crafts, but we did a little too well with the food, so it is the cooking part that prevailed this summer. The number of children had doubled this year, which I found quite understandable and well deserved, beautifully run as it is. Over ninety girls, from six to 12 years old, one cuter than the next, my two granddaughters included, which explains the clamor that greeted me from a block away. Who said girls are quieter than boys? That’s a good one! What are you making today, what are you making today, they would ask all at once as soon as I came in, pressing around me with endless hugs, kisses and love notes, clamoring for this or that goodie. I have been taking my latest cookbook, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen, on the road, spreading the gospel on good wholesome meals winning the race with children and adults alike, and proving it at each of my cooking demos as they polished everything we cooked. I have had eyes only for whole foods all my life, whether at my home, my demos, my catered affairs, but my latest massive book is devoted to the subject on a major scale. What better and more appreciative audience could I wish for?
Not surprisingly, one of the most rewarding part of my years of work on the book is, hands down, the feedback I receive from children. Will my kids eat THIS? is the perennial war cry of countless mothers. And the answer is, judge for yourself!
Stepping on a stool to reach a piece of my chocolate cake her mom tried with no luck to keep away from her.
My book publicist Stuart Shnee’s wonderful daughter, evidently helping her dad with his good work!
It is quite unfortunate that children are described by the food industry, in school and pretty much everywhere, as quirky and intractable little creatures we need to outsmart and trick to get them to eat. My first inkling at just how smart and savvy consumers children are is ages ago when a mom came with her 10-year old son to discuss a birthday party she had hired me to cater for him. Knowing that chocolate talk would get the birthday boy’s immediate attention, I proceeded to discuss dessert first. I went to great pains to describe to him one of my star desserts in baby talk, a chocolate pudding, but you know, not exactly a pudding, like a cream, and so on. Impatient, he interrupted my rambling with “I think you mean chocolate mousse, you know what that is, don’t you?”
We at the Arts Camp deserve all the more kudos that we were able to accommodate all children, no exception, a remarkable feat given the fact that sadly, we were faced with an average of almost one food allergy per child. One of the few exceptions, my granddaughter Sarah Esther, attracted by some good cooking smells, once ran to me and asked breathlessly, “Bubbie please can I have some? I’m not allergic to anything!” Sad sign of the times….. Miraculously, we were able to make stuff that all kids could have. the rare times when the dairy-allergic children were absent, we made a yogurt-based dessert, and when the peanut-allergic children were absent we used peanuts, and so on, but for the most part everyone enjoyed everything.
On two occasions, the moms were invited to sample the fruits of our labors, and the kids proudly put out quite a spread for them. I could only tell them what I had been telling the children: Call me a rebel, but I just love to cook with ingredients that children would supposedly never get near, and then watch them eat the finished dish and even taking seconds without any adult begging. The reason is quite simple; couldn’t say it better than Marvin Gaye: There ain’t nothing like the real thing! When you cook with only real ingredients, the finished dish is guaranteed to be much more exciting than the improbable sum of its parts, no matter how objectionable they might look at first, and no matter how recalcitrant the child.
Baby enjoying my quick minestrone: How liberating is this?
Moms were delighted to admit defeat, and sent me dozens of messages saying their children asked for Levana’s veggie burgers, omelets, carrot cake, salad, crepes, minestrone, date power bars. If this revelation is not a revolution (could these two words be etymologically related?), then I wonder what is! Just look at our picture above: Even babies ate my soups and muffins. I think you will enjoy all the recipes we made for them, which I am sharing here with you. See? And it’s all in my cookbook! When you cook, please remember children are real little persons, and will gladly eat what you eat, from soup to nuts, so make sure one size fits all! Aunt Levana is here to save you time and money, all in good health and in style. Who knew it could be so much fun cooking with your kids? Let them into your kitchen please! Well-fed children are smart and happy children, and quite often budding young chefs, our future, so please take them seriously. Don’t like to cook? In a rush? That’s OK, I have the perfect survival guide for you, great meals from scratch in no time. You’re welcome!
List of our Camp Goodies:
To conclude, would you allow me a little preaching here? Oh have no fear, I am not trying to get you induced into some cult, that is, no cult other than that of whole foods. The following is a passage from my cookbook, from the chapter on feeding children:
I always wonder at how the very same mothers who will cry at the sight of a scratch on their child will think nothing of feeding him or her foods laden with chemicals: What presents the greater risk and inflicts the most damage? Just because the danger is insidiously incremental doesn’t make it any less clear and present. Children will eat what their moms feed them, period. Kids are small adults, and we don’t need to get them used (alas, even addicted sometimes) to packages with cartoon characters in order to ensure they will feed themselves. What would your children do after being served some homemade soup, a sandwich made with whole-grain bread, some roast chicken with brown rice or corn on the cob, and so on at home (or in school for that matter) several days in a row ? Go on a hunger strike? Mount a mutiny with all the kids on the block? Make restaurant reservations? Of course not! On the second day, third at the most, they will sit down and eat, and yes, enjoy it, and never look back! They eat junk only because that’s what their friends eat, because that’s what they were told was cool, because that’s what their school feeds them, because that’s what the vending machines heave relentlessly. So, dear moms, unite, dare to be different, resist peer pressure, and do the right thing—your children will love you even more if that is at all possible. You will be rewarded with healthy and contented children at a minimal cost of money and time. My granddaughter recently created quite a stir at the supermarket when she asked her mother, at the top of her lungs, to please buy her some pumpkin and some peas; so you see, it is just what you get them used to. And no, she is not a geek, she is, in fact, quite a delightful and fun child, and so are her pumpkin-eating siblings and cousins.
I remember an alarmingly telling remark my nephew Ari once made when a teenager on a vacation from school, as we lunched at my house: “School lunches look like the cook tells himself, what can I feed these Bachurim just so they don’t drop dead on me?” Fast forward almost a whole generation, I’m sorry to say very little has changed. Little chip off the old block, my granddaughter Musia recently wrote Mayor Bloomberg about the deplorable state of the school lunch programs, and the best part is, Mayor Bloomberg wrote Musia! Did she just get some magic ball rolling? I myself have cooked for lunch programs in several institutions, on an almost unimaginably low budget, and got great results. I dream of doing it for one of our schools and geriatric centers!