Chef Rubén García shares his tips for preparing healthy food for children. (Photo/Courtesy Think Food Group)

Chef Spotlight: Rubén García on making nutritious meals for kids

Vitals: Born in Spain, García is an experienced chef and father of two whose passion for food has inspired him to not only create fantastic menus as the Research and Development Director of José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, but at home as well, as he teaches his children about nutrition and healthy eating habits. García has helped develop recipes for mentor Andrés’ cookbooks, all in addition to developing concepts, menus, special events and programming for each of Andrés’ restaurants worldwide. And when he’s not working, the 33-year-old volunteers in various efforts to instill healthy eating habits among the nation’s children – all while teaching his 5 and 8 year olds a love of fruits and vegetables.

Experience: Before joining ThinkFoodGroup in 2004, García worked for world-famous chef Ferran Adrià at El bulli. By working at every single station, García gained an intense appreciation and knowledge of advanced techniques and exquisite presentation; skills he utilizes every day as a Spanish transplant in Washington, D.C. charged with promoting culinary innovation on behalf of Chef Andrés.

Why he’s passionate about childhood nutrition: “We live in a complicated world where nutrition isn’t taken seriously. If we look forward and think about the future of our children, then we need to pay more attention to this issue. It takes time to explain what foods are good, and what their nutritional value is but if we don’t talk about that with our kids then they will not have that knowledge.”

On going into schools to teach kids about nutrition: “I believe that education begins at home but unfortunately, many parents themselves aren’t very informed about nutrition. So schools bear a lot of that responsibility for teaching kids about the right food choices. And of course, a chef’s life isn’t easy – we barely have time for a personal life – but I love doing what I can when it comes to this issue.”

RELATED: Chef José Andrés talks nutrition, hunger in America: “We have a responsibility”

His tips for introducing healthy eating habits to kids: “Since my kids are so young, I can speak from experience! From the beginning, my kids have always eaten what I put on the table. I never prepared anything special for them because there was always an expectation that they would eat what my wife and I did, and that always included fruits and vegetables. I want them to be healthy, so I used my own diet and cooking as a starting point. As babies, my kids saw me eating everything – so they ate everything.”

On teaching kids cooking: “Make it fun, like a game. Kids love drawing, playing and cutting with scissors – and cooking has many of those elements. Cooking is a way of creating, so it’s really about presenting it in a fun way to kids. You can play with textures and colors, and at the end, you can eat it. My kids love cooking because they think of it as fun and I think if you start them with that mentality when they’re young, eating and preparing healthy foods becomes more interesting.”

On making veggies appetizing: “I think one great tip is that you should buy what’s in season. Oranges in winter will taste so much more delicious than those purchased in summer; apples freshly-picked during the fall taste better than the ones stored until summer. I know they can often be more expensive, but seasonal produce always tastes so much better. I also like cutting fruits and vegetables into shapes or skewers – things that are fun to look at and easy to eat. Small bites always work well for kids.”

Chef Garcia is sharing his recipe for flavor-packed beet gazpacho below. It’s a recipe that he recently prepared for sixth grade students in Washington, D.C. as part his presentation on how to prepare healthy, easy meals with locally grown produce in conjunction with Growing Healthy Schools Week.

Beet Gazpacho

Yields 4

Ingredients for the gazpacho

1/2 green bell pepper

1 medium cucumber

6 plum tomatoes

4 medium boiled beets, peeled

1/2 garlic clove

1 cup extra virgin olive oil (from Spain)

Sherry vinegar

1 cup water

1. Rinse all the produce in fresh clean water.

2. Cut the peppers and remove the veins rom inside

3. Peel and chop the cucumber into irregular pieces

4. Chop the tomatoes and the cooked beets into irregular pieces.

5. Add all of the vegetables, the garlic, water and olive oil to the blender

6. Blend until completely smooth.

7. Add salt and vinegar to taste

8. Strain through a fine strainer

9. Keep it in the refrigerator

To finish

1 boiled beet, peeled

1 T toasted pistachios

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

Fresh goat cheese

To serve:

1. Cut the cooked beet in 1/2″ squares and place them in the bottom of a soup bowl

2. Sprinkle pistachios and goat cheese on top of the beets.

3. Finish it with olive oil and salt to taste

4. To serve, pour the cold gazpacho on top of the beets

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