Jordan: Making Great Dinners While Cooking for Kids
In this Kitchen Hero feature, Jordan shares his favorite dinner salad recipe, tips for how to get kids to eat healthy and how to make cooking easier, and his recommendation for a meal to make for family.
Kitchen Hero and music teacher Jordan has been cooking since his teenage years, but has upped his game in recent years. Though it’s not always easy to fit cooking into a busy schedule of teaching and parenting, it’s been worth it to him to cook healthy meals at home — and it’s helped him save money on groceries, too. Here he shares how he prepares kid plates that allow his kids to taste a little of everything, as well as some of what he’s learned since joining Cook Smarts.
Name: Jordan Ballenger
City, State: Priest River, ID
I cook for: myself, my wife, and my 2 girls (4 and 6).
Outside of the kitchen I: am a general music and band teacher, a husband, and a father to my girls.
If I could have superpower, it would be: to freeze time so I could have some peace and quiet from the kids!
I cook because: I’ve always loved being able to follow a recipe and have it turn out well.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: Nearly every meal we’ve had has been a hit in the flavor department, so that’s a hard one. I wish the website tracked the number of times you’ve made a meal. I think we’ve made Honey Adobo Chopped Chicken Salad the most. We just keep coming back to it. It’s the avocados, I think.
1. How did you learn to cook?
I taught myself to cook as a teenager. I’ve always been independent and following recipes came easy to me. I’ve always wanted to learn more, but never did until Cook Smarts came into my life.
2. What’s been your biggest cooking challenge?
Honestly, time and energy. Making time to cook after a long day at work is hard, especially when we don’t get home until 4 or 5. And when I’ve had a draining day at work, it’s even more difficult to find the motivation.
3. We love the little “sample” plates you put together for your kids. Can you tell us more about this and your strategies for feeding your kids?
It’s been something I’ve learned from other Cook Smarts users on the Facebook group, but what I do is, when I’m prepping a recipe, I’ll have two kid plates out and put small portions of the ingredients on their plates as I prep. That way they get the veggies before they’ve been flavored and cooked and I can keep everything separated out on their plates. With meats, I’ll try to leave one serving of the meat (generally chicken) unflavored. And when the recipe is all made, I’ll put a little of the finished product on their plates on the (very) off chance they’ll actually try it and like it. I know letting them dip their own food is a bit better, but we just tell them to eat what they want and not what they don’t want. We encourage them to try bites of new stuff as well. If they make an effort to eat what I’ve given them, they don’t like some or all of it, and they’re still hungry, we’ll let them get their own food as long as it’s approved by a parent as a healthy choice.
“I’ve always wanted to learn more [about cooking], but never did until Cook Smarts came into my life.”
4. What’s been the biggest change in your family’s cooking / eating routine since starting Cook Smarts?
We eat out WAY less, which is nice, and easier on our bank account, but we also eat a bit later than we’d like because of how long it actually takes to cook home-cooked meals.
5. What have you learned since starting Cook Smarts’ meal plans?
I’ve learned loads! I’ve learned how to set up my kitchen efficiently and where best to prep food on my counters. I’ve learned to prep ingredients before turning on the heat (unless it’s preheating the oven). I’ve learned how to use a knife and I love the how-to videos on how to cut vegetables. I’ve learned that you can tenderize chicken with a fork and that, generally, five days is the limit on prepped and made food in the fridge. I’ve learned that you can make a ton of wonderful flavors with 6 spices and salt and pepper (never thought I’d go through so much coriander), and I never knew I could make my own dressings (and it only takes 4 ingredients!). I’ve learned how to manage my food inventory and the flow of ingredients through the kitchen so that regularly cooking meals actually doesn’t cost that much. I’ve learned how to clean as I cook and use a trash bowl (seriously best kitchen idea ever). I’m still working on this, but I’ve also learned how to save perishable ingredients that I only use every so often. Cook Smarts has taught me a lot about cooking, and I know it has much more to teach me yet!
6. Tell us about your proudest kitchen moment.
When my sister and her husband came up to visit and I cooked for them and my parents. I made Steak with Miso Lime Butter as a suggestion from someone on the Cook Smarts Facebook group and it was a big hit! My sister lives in Phoenix and it’s been really hard to travel this past decade. The last time I had really spent some time with them was as a teenager, so they loved seeing how much I’d grown as a person and how good I was in the kitchen.
7. What are your tips for health and success in the kitchen?
Health? Don’t worry so much about what’s in the food (as long as you cooked it) so much as how much you eat. Everything in moderation.
Success in the kitchen? For me, being successful in the kitchen is about being organized. Having all the ingredients you need before you need them (double check the shopping list!), having them in order of use, knowing kitchen theory about prep/cook/clean/serving stations as well as keeping paths to the pantry and fridge clear (aka, keeping non-helpers out of the kitchen), and cleaning up as I go. Cooking messy and disorganized just doesn’t do it for me and usually turns out poor quality meals.
Jordan, thanks for sharing your tips for working parents with us! It’s great to hear how much you’ve learned about cooking from being a Cook Smarts member, and we know your ideas about preparing kids’ plates will help other families introduce new foods to picky eaters. We wish you continued success and adventures in the kitchen!