MOPS in the Kitchen


“In 2015, for the first time in history, we ate out more as a population than we ate at home,” shared Vicki Leach, FBC’s Food Coordinator.  Vicki joined FBC’s Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group on September 21 at the Warehouse to hold a cooking demonstration with them and to give them practical and easy tips for cooking healthy and quick meals at home.   Her goal was to start getting families back into the kitchen, cooking healthier foods, so that they could start to develop healthier eating patterns, and have less need to eat their meals out at restaurants.

“Healthy cooking equals any time we eat at home and we are cooking using items in their most whole form,” said Vicki.  She showed the MOPS through hands-on training how to cut and prep food items, such as vegetables and meat, along with how to incorporate things like whole grain pastas and breads into meals in child-friendly ways.  From the practical standpoint though, she also made it okay for families to use jarred and canned items to save time on meal preparation because in general, these items are generally more nutritious than foods purchased through a fast-food window.

One key component of healthy eating is menu planning.  Vicki shared with the MOPS how she creates dinner menus for her own family and how they can do it themselves for theirs.  The first thing, she said, was to make a list of all of the foods that your family likes to eat.  Don’t add something to this list that your family does not like.  Next, she said to look at the family’s schedule for the week and to know what days your family will eat at home, and when you are not going to be home.  Plan your menus for the nights that you are home.  Third, she said to write down all the side dishes that your family likes to eat.  Fourth, she encouraged the moms to add some healthy raw items to their lists:  salad, carrot sticks and other raw vegetable, and fresh fruit, etc.  From all of these created lists, moms were shown how to mix and match foods to make dinner menus that would suit both their families’ needs and tastes.

Vicki also helped to answer questions some parents shared about getting picky children to eat healthy food.  She stated that it takes giving a child a food about 17 times for them to start liking it.  She also helped the MOPS to realize that as parents, they have the right to decide what their children will eat.  “You’re the mom,” she said.  “You get to be the one who buys the food.  You are the one who decides what your family will eat.  One of the things that is happening is that we are letting kids dictate what they’re eating.”  As a result, she said, they are choosing to eat things that taste good, but are not necessarily good for them, and we are creating a generation of “bad eaters,” which will have long-term health effects.  “Sometimes, we have to be the bad guys,” Vicki said, “But it is important that we as moms teach healthy eating patterns to our children.”

The morning proved to be a fun experience for the MOPS group with lots of hand-on cooking, eating, and laughter.  And of course, the result was that moms and their children joined together for an early lunch at the conclusion of the meeting where everyone got to eat and sample the food that the MOPS themselves had prepared.

“Vicki was wonderful! Not only did she provide a fun, hands on experience for us, but she also gave us several helpful tips for grocery shopping and cooking, which I really needed!  She offered suggestions for picky eaters (I feel like every family has one of those, right?)!  Vicki was motivating and encouraging. I enjoyed our time with her so much, and I hope she’ll come back!” 
- Laura Armstrong

“Oh my goodness. I cannot say enough about Vicki's demonstration and how helpful and what a blessing it was! I got a little more intentional about vegetable intake. So now we try to do one cooked and one raw every night whether it's in something or stand alone. I try to leave snacks out before dinner that are vegetables so that if anybody says anything, there's snack right there!”
- Joanna Holmes

“ . . . It has been 2 weeks now, and after hearing Vicki, I've never felt more motivated to cook and thankfully haven't lost that motivation yet. I've literally enjoyed cooking and finding new recipes which I never thought I would be able to say. It was also so encouraging to me how much she stressed that we need to be eating whole foods and in a similar light, that particular diets where certain food groups are left out aren't always the best choice. I feel like I'm finally starting to think along the lines that since we obviously do have to eat, why not make it good, healthy and enjoyable. I love how food brings us together as a family and the table is where conversation happens.”
- Audrey Chaney

The cooking demonstration was funded jointly by a grant by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi and Mississippi State’s Department of Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion. Here are a few of the MOPS favorite recipes that Vicki shared with the group:

Basil and Cornflake Oven Baked Chicken Tenders

  • 4 Boneless Skinless chicken breasts

  • 5 cups Cornflakes cereal (crushed to 2 cups)

  • 1 jar of pre-made basil pesto

  • 2 tsp. garlic powder

  • 2 tsp. dried parsley

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 T. water

  • 2 T. vegetable oil

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Pat chicken breasts dry with a towel.  Pound chicken breasts lightly between layers of plastic wrap to even thickness (about ½ inches thick).  Cut into uniform strips about 1 inch wide.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.

Crush Cornflakes in a zip lock bag using a rolling pin or a can.  Season cornflakes with dried herbs and spices.  Pour Cornflake mixture into a bowl.  In another bowl, whisk together the egg and water.  In a third bowl pour the jarred pesto sauce.

Place chicken strips in the bowl of pesto sauce and allow to marinate for a few minutes.  Remove from pesto sauce and dip one at a time in the egg mixture, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl.  Place into Cornflakes mixture and toss to cover.  Remove strips from cornflakes and place on paper-lined baking sheet that has been coated with vegetable oil and sprayed with pan spray.

Bake tenders for 6 minutes, and then flip over to the other side, and bake for another 6-9 minutes until golden brown, crisp, and cooked through.

One-Skillet Spaghetti

  • 1 pound lean ground beef

  • 2 medium onions chopped

  • 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, undrained

  • ¾ cup chopped bell pepper

  • ½ cup water

  • 1 can mushroom stems and pieces, drained

  • 2 tsp. salt

  • 1 tsp. sugar

  • 1 tsp. chili powder

  • 7 oz. thin spaghetti, broken in half

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cook and stir beef and onions in heavy skillet until beef is light brown and done.  Drain fat.  Add tomatoes, bell pepper, water, mushrooms, salt, pepper, chili powder, and spaghetti noodles.  Break up the tomatoes as you bring mixture to a boil.  Cover and simmer stirring until spaghetti is tender, about 30 minutes.  It may be necessary to add water occasionally as the mixture cooks.  Sprinkle with cheese and stir again.  Cover until cheese melts.  Serve.

Barbecue Chicken Sandwiches

  • 3 pounds fresh chicken breasts (about 5-6 large breasts)

  • 2 (18  oz.) bottles Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue sauce

  • Garlic powder

  • Salt and pepper

  • Lemon pepper

  • All-purpose seasoning

Spray the inside of a crock-pot with cooking spray. Lay the raw chicken breasts in the bottom in a single layer, overlapping the edges if needed to make them all fit.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Season with garlic powered, lemon pepper, and all-purpose seasoning.  Pour the two bottles of barbecue sauce over the top and cover.  Turn high to heat and cook 5-6 hours until chicken is done and fall-apart tender.  Using 2 forks, shred chicken in the sauce.  Serve on hamburger or slider buns, with coleslaw either on the sandwich or on the side.

Charity Gwaltney