Juliana, 19 months old, couldn’t get enough of the pasta in beet sauce.
Scarlett, 3 1/2 years old, her face decorated with painted-on green cauliflower florets, also called the pasta her favorite.
Both were taking part in Eat Up, an event promoting kids nutrition held Sunday at Temple Israel on East 75th Street.
“Kids’ eating is a topic I think about all the time. I wanted to find a way for kids to try new healthy foods in a fun and playful environment,” said Melissa Kasper, the afternoon event’s facilitator and the chairwoman of Just Food, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that advocates for healthier eating. “The idea was for this to be a celebration to immerse kids in the magic of growing and cooking.”
The afternoon’s “Snacktivity Menu” included fruit and veggie face-painting, herb-garden planting and apron decorating. But the emphasis was on the plentiful cooking demonstrations of cauliflower popcorn, the aforementioned beet-carrot pasta sauce, and a kale, apple and carrot salad. Yadira Garcia, who made the popular pasta sauce, is in her third year as a Just Food community chef. Garcia, whose business card reads “Happy Healthy Latina,” teaches healthy cooking, primarily into the city’s poorer communities, using fresh farm ingredients, often from local community gardens. “I love my job so much — getting to feed and teach people about healthy food. Who wouldn’t love that?”
All around the room on Sunday, that affection was being paid back.
“The salad is delicious,” said 6-year-old Guy, who was on his third sample bowl of the stuff, which was prepared by Sia Pickett, a Just Food community chef since 2010. Guy’s twin sister India also appeared to enjoy the concoction, but declined to rate it for the record.
The twins’ mother, Yfat Reiss Gendell, took up the challenge in her stead, raving about Just Food’s mission: “They are trying to promote lifelong healthy eaters,” she said. “What parent wouldn’t want that?”
Nearby, Monique Newmark tried to get her “very picky” 4-year-old son to taste the salad. But even with prodding from his father, the boy refused. “He doesn’t eat healthy enough,” his mother said. “I’m hoping to encourage him to try more.”
But, about an hour later, success was at hand, and mouth: Newmark remarked that her son loved the cauliflower popcorn.
“He ate the whole bag,” she said, “and I’m going to take the recipe home.”
(For those who are enticed, place popcorn-sized florets of one medium cauliflower into a zipper bag along with tablespoon of olive oil, ½ tablespoon of both onion and garlic powder and two tablespoons of either nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese. Shake until well coated. Eat and enjoy.)
Kasper said Eat Up, Just Food’s first-ever event of this type, turned out “better than I could have hoped for.”
She is undoubtedly again in the planning stages.
“I am just so excited to see what we can do with this next year,” she said.