May 17, 2018

When kids are exposed to delicious meals prepared with fresh ingredients in their homes, they are more likely to make healthier choices away from home. 

Registered Dietitian Emily Burson and Executive Chef Brandon Neumen, founders of School Nutrition Plus(SNP), are inspiring families to cook together with the healthy recipes they serve students in the school cafeteria. The dietitian and chef duo share their approach to kids’ nutrition in their new cookbook, “A Chef Walks Into a Cafeteria … Healthy Family Recipes from California’s Premiere School Food Company.”

They offer the following tips to put a healthy, scratch-cooked meal on the table the whole family will love – and how to get kids involved in the process!

Start slow.Shifting your family’s mealtime to 100 percent scratch-cooked meals doesn’t need to happen overnight. “Start by introducing one new recipe each week to your family,” says Burson. “Here’s the payoff: Once you’ve tried it and your kids give your dish the thumbs up, you’ll want to cook this way more often.” 

Be a healthy role model. School staff engages with kids as they try new items because they’re more likely to accept it. Mealtime is an opportunity to educate and lead by example – whether it’s in the school cafeteria or at the dinner table.

Involve kids. “The more kids are involved with how and what they eat, the more likely they are to try new, fresh foods,” says Burson. She recommends bringing your kids shopping to select new produce and having them roll up their sleeves and assist in the kitchen. 

Mix the familiar with the unfamiliar.As an example, pair arugula with blackberries, sliced cucumbers and fresh dill for an “ABCD” salad. “The sweetness of the berries is a great complement to peppery arugula and fresh cucumber. And the dill brightens the whole combo,” says Neumen.

Make it fun. The more interactive and hands-on kids can be with their food, the better. Add healthy dip options to encourage them to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Here’s one dip recipe courtesy of School Nutrition Plus:

Black Bean Hummus with Green Pepper Triangles

Makes 4 servings, gluten-free


1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1 large green bell pepper, sliced in triangles

Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish


  1. Place all ingredients, except green bell pepper and cilantro, in food processor and blend until smooth. 
  2. Transfer dip to a small bowl. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Dip bell pepper triangles into hummus. 

Prep options:Raid the produce section to make this dip fun. Red bell peppers, as well as carrots and cucumbers, also make good dippers for this hummus.

These five simple tips will help you improve the nutritional quality of your family’s foods, create tasty meals everyone will enjoy, and develop healthy eating habits for life.