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Expanding Children’s Palates with Fresh Veggies and Culturally Rich Meals

By Mandi Zaccardi, YWCA Children’s Center Director and Liv Anderson, Former Assistant Director
September 5, 2018
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It’s harvest season! At this time of year, farmer’s markets are loaded with a variety of fresh vegetables. It is a great time to think about how we use local fresh fruits and vegetables for our meals at YWCA Children’s Centers. It is not hard to think of reasons why fresh food is best:

  • No artificial ingredients
  • Best nutritional value
  • And the children notice… fresh fruits and veggies look and taste great!

Tomatoes, Watermelons, Apples and More

On any given day, Chef Steven at YWCA Midtown can be seen chopping tomatoes, watermelons, apples, pineapples, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, cilantro, zucchini and more. Steven incorporates fresh fruits and veggies into breakfast, lunch and snacks. One of his favorite recipes to make for YWCA children is Curry Chicken. Below is a recipe so that you can make it at home.

Curry Chicken Recipe


  • 2 pounds of raw boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 cups of garbanzo beans
  • ½ cup of diced green onions
  • 2 cups of diced red pepper (mild)
  • 2 cups of organic rainbow carrots (any fresh carrot will work!)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 TBSP curry powder
  • ½ TBSP of salt
  • ½ TBSP of pepper
  • ½ TBSP garlic powder


  1. Set the oven at 325 degrees F to preheat.
  2. Dice up the green onion, red pepper and carrots. Add the spices and olive oil to the vegetables.
  3. Add this mixture to the chicken and garbanzo beans.
  4. Place on a sheet tray, 9 x 13 cake pan or casserole dish.
  5. Cook uncovered for about 25 minutes or until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F.
  6. Serve with brown rice or another favorite dish.

Serving Up Culturally Rich Food

The children in YWCA Children’s Centers are from many different backgrounds and cultures. As part of our anti-bias curriculum, we provide culturally diverse food so that each child sees a piece of their culture and home life reflected in the classroom. This means that some meals we serve may be unfamiliar to children. Not everyone likes everything right away and we don’t expect children to! But by providing a wide range of healthy foods throughout their time at YWCA, we help them grow and expand the tastes they enjoy.

Children Discuss Taste and Spices

Recently, the four-year-old classroom was having ginger chicken with brown rice and one child said, “Something in this tastes like cookies!” This led the children to discuss gingersnaps, ginger and different spices. These kinds of conversations only happen when kids are provided with food that inspires them.

Periodically, we survey families to find out what children are eating and enjoying at home and school and use that information to modify our menu choices. We’re constantly working to provide the best food to help the children in our care grow.

Tips to Bring Fresh Veggies Home

Here are some fun ways to include your children as you incorporate local fresh fruits and vegetables into your family meals.

  • Plant a simple container garden in your yard or in your house during winter months. Herbs can do very well indoors!
  • Have the children care for the plants and harvest the bounty with you. Maybe you can even all cook together!
  • Stimulate children’s sense by exploring the tastes, textures and smells of different types of produce.
  • Take a trip to your local farmer’s market. Find the closest one to you on the Minnesota Grown website.
  • Conduct a taste test with canned versus fresh produce. See if your child(ren) can guess which is best and if they prefer the fresh produce.

Together, we are guiding the children as they set their eating patterns for life. Nutrition is one of the cornerstones for a long, healthy life and at YWCA Minneapolis, we are dedicated to promoting healthy eating early.