Tracy Cates paints a picture most parents can relate to with their kids: how to appeal to a range of developing tastes around mealtime.
“Trying to figure out a meal that the whole family will eat can be exhausting, often leading us adults to the lowest common denominator solution," she writes.
"We have, over the years, adjusted our diets to an extent, as we accommodate our kids’ constantly changing tastes and our own disdain for preparing more than one meal at a time.”
The queen of shaking things up in the kitchen, Tracy has developed an interactive, fun-filled mealtime activity. Follow along with your kids and be sure to send us pictures of what you make!
This week, she is going to walk us through making a Chinese chicken salad. There will be exploding noodles, hands-on preparation, and plenty of choices for kids to get creative and explore a variety of tastes!
We hope our Kids in the Kitchen series is going to change this norm by involving the whole family in the cooking process. Tracy’s secret is that by providing kids with more responsibility in making the meal and collaborating as a family, they are more likely to at least try it.
Tracy reminds us “this is not an exact recipe so much as it is a path toward dinner. The beauty of meals like this, is that you can get creative and use the ingredients you know your family will like. Use the protein in a quantity that makes sense for your family, adjust tastes, and generally have fun with what you’ve got in the house already. If you’re shopping, think about colors, textures, and flavors.”
Chinese chicken Salad
For the vegetables and toppings
1/2 head of romaine lettuce
1/2 head of Napa or red cabbage
Handful of bean sprouts
Handful of cilantro
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large jicama, shredded
1 large carrot, shredded
1/4 cup of toasted sesame seeds
Get the kids involved in prepping veggies, chopping lettuce and/or cabbage, toasting sesame seeds or other seeds and nuts…
Prep each element and platter them all separately so that, as a grand finale, everyone can create their own salad.
For the chicken
1 lb of protein, such as boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs
In a large pot, bring enough water to cover the chicken by 3 – 4 inches, to a boil.
Add a teaspoon of salt.
Slide your chicken gently into the water, turn OFF the heat, and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Let the chicken sit for 20 minutes.
If it’s still pink inside after 20 minutes, bring the water back up to a simmer, turn the heat off, cover, and let it sit for another 5 minutes.
Remove the chicken and shred by hand when it’s cool enough to touch.
For the noodles
Make sure you have the proper tools set up before you start. If you feel at all nervous about your kids being involved in this process, let them watch from a safe distance.
A sheet pan with a paper bag or paper towels.
A Chinese “spider” (mesh) strainer and a slotted spoon, one in each hand (if you don’t have a mesh strainer with a handle, use a second slotted spoon).
3 ounces of dried bean thread (preferred) or rice noodles
Quart of vegetable oil (not olive oil) – the crunchy noodles in this salad are not only easy to make, but they are magical: the cooking process takes around a minute and the noodles go from a fistful to a salad-bowl-sized mass in seconds.
If you aren’t comfortable with your kids close to the hot oil, have them stand a safe distance away and just watch. I guarantee they will be delighted!
Break your noodles into pieces so that they will submerge in the hot oil all at once.
In a wok or deep pot, heat the oil over medium heat. If you have a thermometer, bring the temp to 360 degrees. If you do not, stand by and test your oil at regular intervals: Dip the tip of a noodle into the hot oil. It should bubble and expand almost immediately. If it takes more than 5 seconds to start bubbling, it isn’t hot enough. Once it reaches the desired temperature, turn the heat down to medium-low.
When the oil is ready, carefully slide a “handful” of noodles into the hot oil using the tools noted above. The noodles should sizzle and expand almost immediately.
Flip them over after about 20 – 30 seconds of cooking and let them cook for another 15 – 20 seconds on the second side.
Remove them to the paper towels/bag to drain. Lightly salt them while they are still hot.
Repeat until all are cooked.
For the dressing & for compiling the salad
You can make this ahead and store in the refrigerator until use.
1 part acid: rice vinegar, lemon, lime
2 parts toasty/oily: toasted sesame oil, other oil (canola, olive, vegetable)
A little at a time with salty/umami: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, peanut butter (some like, some don’t), sea salt
A little at a time with tangy/spicy: fresh ginger (grated or minced), garlic (grated or minced), hot chili sauce (if you want it a little spicy)
A little at a time with sweet: brown or white sugar, sweet chili sauce
For the dressing
Let the kids help concoct this, like mad scientists mixing a potion. Organize the ingredients as described above and have them weigh in on what more it needs as you go.
Whisk all the ingredients together and taste on a piece of lettuce or cucumber. Season to taste.
For compiling the salad
Use a large mixing bowl and a pair of tongs or salad spoons to toss all the ingredients you want to use with a small amount of dressing.
Remember, you can always add more dressing, but you can’t take it away, so start small and add more to taste.
Each person will add the ingredients they want and then dress, toss, and plate.
Tracy tells us “each of my kids made their own and they both ate it ALL. Miracle achieved.”