Kids Eat Fresh at the Allen Farmers Market

Kids, adults and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan employees came together on Wednesday, July 20, all in the name of fresh food.

The Allen Farmers Market, located on the eastside of Lansing, played host to the Kids’ Festival where children had the opportunity to cook, taste and explore different foods. Blue Cross Complete of Michigan was the main sponsor of the event.

Chef Paul Penney was on hand for a cooking demonstration to make delicious, seasonal recipes. For this event, he cooked up an “ode to red, white and blue” with strawberry-blueberry compote served over a bed of almond-creamed rice pudding. More than 350 kids and parents were excited to taste his creation. The compote and rice pudding were both dairy and gluten-free to show how farmers market items can be inclusive for individuals with all allergies and intolerances.

“We’ve found Chef Paul to bring that encouraging combination of fun and easy to his cooking demonstrations,” said Dena Nagarah, community outreach manager for Blue Cross Complete of Michigan. “He makes cooking simple and exciting.”

Demonstrating how easy it is to create meals using locally sourced food, Chef Paul buys half of his recipe ingredients from the farmers market and brings the other half with him. “Our goal is to make people aware that it’s not hard to eat healthy. They just have to get into it. Buy local, buy in season and shop farmers markets to start. Once you get the kids involved there’s a buy-in. We’re coaxing kids into trying something new or different. We want to convert one kid at a time,” said Paul.

Recipe cards are always ready for parents and children to assist families in recreating Chef Paul’s simple recipes. The card features a list of ingredients, cooking instructions and the nutritional value of each snack. All of his recipes feature accessible ingredients and easy-to-create instructions for parents to involve their children in the cooking process.

Penney usually cooks with vegetables to show how parents can easily incorporate them into their child’s diet. The dish will sometimes blatantly feature the vegetable or in some cases, can be “hidden” for those kids who are a bit pickier. “Sometimes kids don’t want to try new foods, so we have ways to work around that. We can kind of hide the vegetable in the dish, so they still get the nutritional value, but it’s not the main focus. It helps having parents there too, so they can try the dish. Then the child is much more likely to try it as well,” he said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan employees had the opportunity to volunteer with the Allen Farmers Market as an employee social responsibility initiative. Volunteer responsibilities included setup and teardown of Chef Paul’s booth, passing out food samples to visitors, encouraging guests to attend the cooking demonstration, and distributing promotional market materials, as well as handing out jump ropes to all of the children who attended.

“By far, this is the biggest day of the summer for us. More than 800 came through to check out what we had going on for Kids Fest. We thrive on the support of the community, and Blue Cross plays a large role in that,” said Julia Kramer, manager of Allen Farmers Market. “We’re thrilled that Blue Cross Complete of Michigan helped make the event possible.”

In addition to Kids Festival, Allen Farmers Market hosts a variety of other innovative programs. Dubbed “The Exchange,” local farmers can place produce inventory on the Allen Farmers Market online portal. Buyers, who must be approved and have an online profile with the market, can then go online and shop for various produce and items. Registered buyers, many of whom are institutional or commercial entities, place an order before Monday or Friday night to be filled by the following Wednesday or Monday. Shoppers also have the option of picking items up at the weekly farmers market on Wednesdays or having them delivered directly to their home.

The Veggie Box, another Allen Farmers Market initiative, works with local farmers to provide Lansing residents with fresh vegetables year-round. Depending on the season, customers can either order the “Summer Veggie Box” or “Fall Veggie Box” for delivery to their workplace, or they can pick it up from the market themselves each week. Items like fresh bread, brown eggs, coffee beans, cheese and specific cuts of meat can even be added to a weekly delivery for a fixed price.

Created in 2004, the Allen Farmers Market hosts more than 30 local vendors who come to the market to sell their products. In 2005, the market became the first in Michigan to accept EBT/SNAP food assistance. The Allen Farmers Market is located at 1629 East Kalamazoo in Lansing, Michigan and is open every Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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