We’re working hard with community partners to directly connect kids with the roots of their food, and we’ve found educational gardens to be a very powerful tool. Through our Garden Grant program, schools and nonprofits are turning outdoor spaces into hands-on, nature-based learning environments that not only promote a basic understanding of how to grow food healthily but also how to make nutritious food choices.
All this month we’ve been raising funds for our annual Growing Healthy Kids Campaign, which supports our programs and directly impacts schools and children in the US, Canada and the UK. However, September is also National Mushroom Month, and we’ve teamed up with The Mushroom Council because we love how they are working to find delicious ways to incorporate healthful mushrooms into everyday family meals.
How can you make the most of mushrooms? Meet The Blend, which is when you mix finely chopped fresh mushrooms with ground meat. Blending mushrooms into family-favorite dishes — like burgers, meatballs, pasta sauces, tacos and sloppy joes — is a super simple way to boost protein and fiber and add flavor. In fact, a study from The Culinary Institute of America and University of California-Davis shows that a traditional ground meat recipe prepared with a mushroom-meat blend can enhance the overall flavor due to double the impact of umami. Plus, it can be a more affordable and more sustainable choice, too. (Fungi fact: Mushrooms are one of the most earth-friendly and renewable crops available.)
And we’re not the only ones excited about The Blend.
How a “MasterChef Junior” Finalist Blends
Teen chef and "MasterChef Junior” finalist Evan Robinson is sharing his favorite ways to blend finely chopped mushrooms and ground meat with two original recipes: Blended Mushroom Nachos and “Evanated” Pizza Burgers.
Now 14 years old and in the 9th grade, this Chicago culinary star not only shared his recipes, he also gave us the scoop on his favorite types of mushrooms, which dish helped him break away from being the “biggest chicken nugget and hot dog kid,” tips for getting kids in the kitchen, and more.
1. What are your favorite types of mushrooms and why?
Chef Evan: My favorite types of mushrooms are button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms because they are both very versatile and have great umami flavors.
2. Why are you excited about cooking with The Blend?
I am excited to cook with The Blend because it is a healthier alternative to meat and in my opinion, it tastes better. Any family recipe can be adapted with The Blend, whether it’s spaghetti Bolognese or chili, the sky’s the limit!
3. What are some of your earliest memories about food, and how did these memories play a part in your journey to becoming a chef?
Whenever my parents had parties, people always gravitated toward the kitchen and I wanted to be able to provide this same joyous and comforting feeling.
4. How can parents help encourage their children to take a more active role in what they eat and what they cook?
If parents expose their kids to foods beyond the kid's menu, the kid will naturally want to learn more about the foods. I used to be the biggest chicken nugget and hot dog kid until I had sushi. Since then, I’ve been trying new things and having loads of fun in the kitchen.
If you’re a kid that hasn’t ever cooked before, start by cooking your favorite food. There is nothing like making something you love and seeing it come out. Even if it doesn’t come out right, you can keep practicing until you get it right.
5. What tip can you give to kids who hesitate to try new foods?
If there is a food you are hesitant to try, you may like it or you may not. You will never know if you don't try. You could end up missing out on what could’ve been your favorite food by hesitating and rejecting it.
6. Do you have a motto about food that guides you in the kitchen or at mealtimes?
Stay Evanated. This is a motto that I came up with myself. To me, it means to try new things and put my own twist on food. Innovate, elevate, Evanate.
7. What is your favorite vegetable?
My favorite vegetable is Brussels sprouts. I like them in many ways: baked with olive oil, salt and pepper; Asian pan sautéed; and shaved in a salad.
8. You’ve already become pretty famous. What’s the best part of people knowing who you are and being known as a junior chef?
Many doors have been opened for me. I was able to start many charities because my name was out there. Also, I get to go to work with chefs all of the time.
**Note: Among his work to support local communities, Evan partnered with Chef Rick Bayless to support our 2018 Give Bees a Chance dinners, which raised funds for Bee Grants!
9. Speaking of working with chefs: what is one important lesson you have learned from well-known chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Rick Bayless?
One important thing I have learned is that it is important to be organized and to have everything ready and cooking will be much easier.
10. Do you want to be a chef when you grow up?
I am not sure. The culinary industry as a whole really interests me, whether it's a food scientist or a food critic, it sounds really cool.