Last week we got the opportunity to chat with Kelly Rowland about all things cooking with kids, healthy eating, grocery shopping, and home-cooked meal related. She’s partnered with Uncle Ben’s to celebrate their Ben’s Beginners program, an awesome movement working to get parents to connect with their children through cooking and to promote healthful eating. This is something near and dear to our hearts, so naturally we were thrilled to able to connect with Kelly.
We had a great time chatting with her for a few reasons. She is super practical when it comes to her cooking, meal planning, and grocery shopping and she has a really strong emotional connection to shared meals and the prep that goes into them. We can SO relate. Kelly agreed to answer (more than a few of…) our questions about her approach to cooking with kids, feeding her toddler son, encouraging family meals, and so much more. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed talking with her. And, we hope you can take a few of Kelly’s tips back to your own kitchens. We know we have!
C&J: What are your favorite 30-minute or less meal ideas for quick family dinners?
Kelly Rowland: Definitely fish! It cooks up so fast with steaming or baking. I usually prepare it in a really simple way with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Then I steam it or bake it and pair that with steamed veggies and rice or a baked regular or sweet potato. I grew up with overcooked veggies that were mushy, sort of gray, and smothered in butter and salt. I want to give my family veggies cooked just enough to be tender but that still retain their bright color and flavor and firm texture. So, I usually steam them just enough to soften them.
C&J: What are a few of your must-have pantry and fridge staples?
KR: Olive oil! There’s a really fancy olive oil store around the corner from me. It’s not cheap, but it is worth it because the oils taste so flavorful. I use olive oil in my cooking a lot and when I use an oil with lots of flavor it really shows in the flavor of the food.
C&J: How do you keep the variety going for homemade meals without adding lots of kitchen time?
KR: I like to go to a restaurant I’ve never been to before and see what’s on their menu to get new ideas for stuff I can make at home. It shows me new foods and new ways to prepare familiar foods. I also will call up a girlfriend or my cousin to see what meals they’re loving at the moment and to see if they have any good recipes to share.
C&J: What are some ways to encourage kids at a really young age in the kitchen?
KR: Seeing adults laughing and having a great time in the kitchen helps kids relate being in the kitchen as a joyful experience. It makes it a place they want to be. I remember hearing my mom and aunts having such a great time in the kitchen when I was growing up. When you combine that with amazing smells from foods cooking, it’s hard for a kid to stay out of the kitchen. You can get kids interested with the great smells and laughter in the kitchen – invite the kids to join in and use it as a time for communication. Kitchen time together is a great time to learn about each other and to let kids practice their communication skills. Bringing kids into the kitchen teaches social skills and creates lasting memories together. This is one of the reasons I love Christmas and Thanksgiving — because of the memories of love, laughter, and a collaborative effort to get the meal made. Collaboration is another important lesson kids learn in the kitchen and having a job to do that contributes to the bigger shared meal gives kids a sense of purpose. Being a part of the meal process makes kids feel helpful and that’s important.
C&J: Is your son interested in “helping” you in the kitchen yet? If so, what are some of the ways you’ve found help get him playing in the kitchen / cooking early on.
KR: My son loves scrambled eggs and toast in the morning. He gets so excited to see me in the kitchen in the morning because he knows his food is coming up. He sits in the kitchen with me while I cook and it’s a chance for us to talk about colors and numbers. I ask him questions like “How many eggs do you want?” and he will answer in Spanish “Dos.” As kids get older, being in the kitchen is such a great way to learn math and science, too!
C&J: Any advice for moms who do a lot of the meal prep, but travel, and want to make sure their partner/kids eat well while they’re away?
KR: Prep when you have time. The more you can get organized all at once, the better because it saves time. Make things easier on yourself. For instance, get everyone’s input on the grocery list ahead of time so each family member can be excited about the groceries. I remember when I was younger, my grandmother would do the shopping each week, on the same day/same time. We’d get so excited for her to come back from the store. Think of grocery shopping as an event that the whole family can participate in in some way. Once you have your supplies, prep as much ahead of time as possible. You want to make things easy on yourself and you also want the meal options to be fun for your kids/partner that are staying at home while you travel.
C&J: Do you take your son to the grocery store with you yet? If so, what are some ways that you get him interested in grocery shopping for more healthful foods/bringing home new foods to try?
KR: Yes! Just like in the kitchen, there is so much for him to learn at the grocery store. We go to the produce department and he gets to practice his colors and also his communication about what he likes and wants. I’ll ask him what colors different fruits and veggies are or I’ll ask him to find something that is a specific color. We have a really good time. He’s learning Spanish along with English and he likes to say colors in Spanish as we see them in different foods in the store.
C&J: Does your son have any favorite foods?
KR: Yes! Right now two of his favorites are truffle risotto and cauliflower. He doesn’t love fruit right now, but I continue to offer him a variety.
There you have it! Thanks for chatting with us, Kelly! Be sure to check out Ben’s Beginners for more resources on cooking with kids.
What are your triumphs and challenges are in the kitchen with kids? Let us know in the comments!
Disclosure: We were not compensated for our time creating this post.