Kid-friendly banana bread squares can be made ahead for grab-and-go breakfasts. - MCT

Healthy Start

Little fuss over wholesome foods has followed some free cooking lessons for Michelle Otis' family.

Whole-wheat pasta, homemade granola and pumpkin puree as pizza sauce have been touted in Oregon Health Management Services' "Cooking With Kids" series. The Grants Pass classes continue this month and next with healthful breakfasts highlighted to start the school year.

"If you can get them to eat healthy first off, they'll continue all day," says Otis, 38, of Medford.

Eggs baked in muffin tins is one dish that her kids — 9, 13 and 15 — like to grab and go, says Otis. They bag up homemade granola in the evenings to speed up the next morning's routine, she adds.

Breakfast for teens should include meat or another protein, fat, fruit, grain and dairy (or a nondairy alternative), according to registered dietitians Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen, authors of "Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School." Think as simple as peanut butter on whole-grain toast with a banana and skim milk.

Even children as young as 7 can scramble eggs, assemble yogurt parfaits and use a microwave to make breakfast with fresh fruits, whole grains and protein, says OHMS instructor Barbara Paulson.

"If you eat a healthy breakfast, I think you tend to be healthier generally," says the former home-economics teacher, adding that students who eat breakfast have noticeably higher levels of energy.

Teaching three of the four classes that OHMS offers each month, Paulson presents recipes with "basic, good ingredients" without a lot of fat or sugar. Four dishes are prepared in each class, recipe copies are provided and participants eat everything they make.

"You go away pretty full actually," she says.

Although most kids who attend are grade-school age, OHMS may add a series for slightly older children to learn more advanced skills, such as bread baking, says Paulson. Classes also incorporate cleanup, another facet of functioning in the kitchen.

"It's not something you do for just one Saturday," says Paulson. "You're set for life."

Otis agrees, explaining that her 18-year-old daughter so enjoyed the sessions as a younger teen that she recently attended an OHMS class for adults.

"We've actually changed the way we eat at home now because of the classes," says Otis. "Because they tasted it, and it tasted good, they were on board with it."

OHMS classes are free with preregistration, but the Medicaid care-management service welcomes donations to community food pantries or cash to support its education efforts, sponsored by PacificSource, MedImpact and Grocery Outlet, which furnishes all the foodstuffs.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.

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