Kids in the Kitchen

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

Tomatoes! Are they fruits or are they vegetables? If you have found this question to be a brainteaser, then you should continue reading. With a plethora of programs and services provided at little to no cost, Cooperative Extension in Lee County has experienced quite the buzz this summer with youth reaping the many benefits of Extension.

As part of the 4H “Summer STEM” program we conducted the curriculum “Kids In the Kitchen”. Getting youth interested in eating and preparing healthy foods was the program’s target. To spike their curiosity we asked participants “What are tomatoes?” and they quickly shouted “Vegetables, Vegetables…” “But are they?”  Tomatoes certainly are nutritious and a staple in many of our diets, especially during the summer months. Tomatoes are excellent sources of antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Tomatoes have also been proven to yield more dietary fiber than apples.

Nutrition is important in everyone’s lives. When the word nutrition comes to mind, you think healthy foods…bland and not very appetizing to the palate. However, in our summer kitchen, at Cooperative Extension, nutrition was fun, interactive and yes we had a great time tasting a variety of NUTRIOUS food. Our 5-week foods camp introduced youth ages 9-12 to basic kitchen concepts, kid-friendly recipes, and adrenaline pumping physical activities. This program was developed through an USDA initiative and was designed to promote nutrition and physical activity in youth. Preparing some of the recipes and through open conversation about food choices and shopping actively engage participants.

A typical lesson introduced the topics of kitchen sense and awareness, the ChooseMyPlate initiative; fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy products; and heart pumping activity. After each session our young participants completed a rolled up their sleeves, washed their hands and got busy preparing a healthy snack. And as you may suspect by popular demand, the best task on the agenda included the hands on cooking activities. Our young cooks learned to make Peanut Butter Fruit, DreamWiches, Rainbow Pita Pockets, Banana Pudding, and Pocket Fruit Pies.

If your child was unable to participate this year in our “Kids In The Kitchen” program, there is no need for worry or disappointment. Plenty of information including recipes can be found at ChooseMyPlate.gov. As an initiative to promote healthy eating and snacking through balance and moderation, MyPlate focuses on the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Parents can also find information on food shopping, local markets versus grocery stores, recommended daily allowances of nutrients and foods, and much more nutritious information on this website. This information is not just geared towards children and youth, but for all members of the family.

Now back to the original question at hand… are tomatoes fruits or vegetables?Botanically, a tomato is a fruit because it is a seed-bearing structure growing from the flowering part of a plant. However; in the late 1800’s the Supreme Court distinguished between science and everyday life and admitted that botanically speaking, tomatoes were technically fruits. Although in everyday life, they decided, vegetables were things “usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats … and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”

So tomatoes are indeed a vegetable and this summer tomatoes will be plentiful in your gardens and at the local farmers market. Be sure to enjoy this summer “fruit” and bring the kids into the kitchen with you and start cooking. It is essential that children develop healthy lifestyles and maintain these behaviors as they age and mature in life.

William Rowe is the NCA&T 2015 Extension Summer Intern for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.