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Al fresco with kids

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Natasha Sadeghian de la Garza, Olivia de la Garza, Talia de la Garza

AL FRESCO Cooking Buzz writer Natasha Sadeghian de la Garza and her daughters, Olivia (left) and Talia, like to eat outside on festive occasions, especially during Spring Break. (Photo: Kim Graeter Photography)

Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925. 

Spring is in the air. For much of the country, this still means shoveling snow. But here in Houston, we trade in our already mild winter months for gorgeous, crisp, cloudless days. Birds sing while making their nests, our famous azaleas are in full bloom, and our sweet babies are gearing up for Spring Break.

If your family is planning to opt out of traveling this year, there are endless activities our city has to offer for kiddos, from the zoo and arboretum to our long list of museums, our favorite being the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

But sometimes, the children just want a day at home, and so do you. On homebody days, one of my favorite activities is to cook with my girls. During Thanksgiving Break we are busy baking pecan and pumpkin pies for the big day of feasting, and at Christmas we enjoy our annual day of cookie baking. During Spring Break, we like to turn a regular dinner night into a fun al fresco experience, or as our girls refer to it, “a fancy picnic.” 

Natasha Sadeghian de la Garza, Olivia de la Garza, Talia de la Garza

Natasha Sadeghian de la Garza’s girls, Olivia (left) and Talia, call al fresco dining “a fancy picnic.” (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

The main goal when dining al fresco is to make foods that are light, fun and easy. It’s a great idea to choose items that don’t necessarily need to be eaten warm and fresh out of the oven. An array of crudités with the fresh Garden Cheese Dip from the Houston Junior League Cookbook, with cheeses and grated carrots, makes a good starter. This gives the kiddos something healthy to snack on before the main event. We like to incorporate a salad into our meals, and Strawberry Fields, with its strawberries, brown sugar and greens, from Stop and Smell the Rosemary is one that our girls always enjoy. (It never hurts to throw in fruit and nuts as a surefire way to get them to eat their leafy greens.)

The remainder of the dishes incorporate lemon, because, in my opinion, nothing says al fresco more than a little citrus. The Chicken Couscous Salad from Peace Meals is delicious, and with feta and chicken, protein packed to keep little tummies full.

For the main course, something with pasta is always a big hit, so Grilled Tuscan Shrimp with Lemon Orzo from Peace Meals – with lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, banana peppers and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – is perfect.

And if you decide to add the extra treat of dessert, it really doesn’t get any better than the Meyer Lemon Pistachio Tart in Peace Meals. So when those spring days finally arrive, considering shaking things up with a cooking adventure that takes you and your family outside.

To buy a Houston Junior League cookbook, see jlh.org or call 713-871-6608.

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