Growing Up Gourmet – Feature story Southwest Metro Magazine

Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard Helps Kids Eat Healthy – Raising kids to cook and eat the healthy way.


From the day her son, Jens, was born, Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard made thoughtful choices about the way he would eat. She prepared her baby food from scratch, the way she had seen her grandmother do it growing up in the small town of Quetzaltepeque, Guatemala, where market vegetables, fruits and legumes were far more available and cheaper than any processed foods. As soon as her son was old enough to sit up and watch her cook, he was perched across the counter from her as she chopped, seasoned and stirred, turning the otherwise harried task of putting dinner on the table into quality time with her son.

Once you get Moreno-Damgaard started, she’s full of inspiring tales like these, making it apparent that the smallest gestures can go a long way in teaching children about food. Even if the opportunity to puree your own baby food for your kids has long past, it’s never too late to involve curious little ones in basic kitchen tasks. One of the first hands-on jobs that Jens’ mother delegated to him was pulling apart a rotisserie chicken that she’d purchased at the grocery store. “I let it cool, had him put on a pair of gloves and tear the chicken apart,” she says.

When it was too risky to give her son a real knife, Moreno-Damgaard gave him a plastic serrated one and began teaching him how to safely cut and chop. Now, at age 13, he has a knife to call his own, a smaller version of her 8” chef’s knife, which he uses to chop an onion the proper way and make his own guacamole. She still keeps her eye on what he does, but since she has educated him about all the kitchen hazards, he shows reverence and caution when he cooks.

Jens gained such confidence under his mother’s wing that he is now acting as an apprentice in her professional life, where she is an educator offering classes and demonstrations on healthy cooking with a cultural flair. When she was invited to put on a Guatemalan chocolate-making presentation at the Minnesota History Center last year, he donned his own chef’s coat and stood by her side on the stage as she gave her first demonstration.  Afterwards, he told his mother he’d like to take over, which he did with poise, throwing in his own anecdotes along the way.

By working together in the kitchen, Moreno-Damgaard has instilled in her son a bias toward healthier eating choices. The refrigerator is stocked with fruits and vegetables, which he readily eats, and alternatives to soda, like fresh limeade, tea and fresco (a Latin drink flavored with real fruit). She forgoes “kid’s meals” of hot dogs and chicken fingers, offering her son the same healthy, balanced meals that she and her husband eat. When it comes to eating restaurant food, especially fast food, she’s a bit of a skeptic, because as she puts it, “I know too much.” She suggests gravitating toward whole grains and proteins in restaurants, and a minimal amount of fat. “Always choose grilled meat over fried, and look for salad or oven-roasted fries, instead of chips, which are loaded with salt and fat.”


Attend Chef Amalia’s Upcoming Workshop for Families:


When: Saturday, October 15, 22 and 29; 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Where: Royal Pantry Cooking School, Room 210, 1001 Minnesota Hwy 7, Hopkins, MN 55305

Cost: $45 per person per class or $125 for the series of three classes.

Register at Classes are open to the public and to families with children ages 8-12 and teens.


Looking for a fun way to get your children involved in preparing and eating healthy meals? Check out this menu from Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard. (Find the recipes below.)


A menu that can easily be prepared by the entire family, inspired by fast food favorites like hamburgers and fries, popular dinner fare like tacos and the breakfast and snack foods of Amalia’s childhood.



MOSH – old fashioned oats with skim milk (2% milk for kids), canela, bananas and strawberries

HUEVOS TIBIOS –soft boiled eggs and black bean-corn tortillas or whole wheat toast

Café con leche (coffee with skim milk) or herbal tea for adults

1 glass of water



1 cup skim milk (or light soy milk)

1 banana drizzled with agave nectar (from the agave plant that tequila is made)

1 glass of water



AMALIA’S FAVORITE HAMBURGUESAS CON PAPITAS – Latinized grilled bison burgers with Guatemalan guacamole, black beans, jalapeño ketchup, tomato and butter lettuce with roasted herbed fries

ROSA DE JAMAICA – hibiscus tea with lime sweetened with agave nectar

1 glass of water


Mid afternoon snack

QUESO FRESCO – 1 oz. fresh Latin cheese (or skim cheese of choice)

1 apple, pear or any other fruit of choice

1 glass of water



AMALIA’S SCRUMPTIOUS TORTILLAS CON POLLO – corn soft tortillas, rotisserie chicken, avocado, cabbage, cilantro-lime-habanero-yogurt sauce, and salsita

1 cup black coffee or skim milk (2% milk for kids)

1 glass of water

1 – 5 oz. glass of white or red wine for adults and 1 glass of milk or herbal tea

1 glass of water



If you must eat out, here are some samples of healthier choices at fast food restaurants or convenience stores.



Breakfast sandwich with egg (no cheese)

Fruit variety cup

1 cup skim milk (2% milk for kids)

Black coffee or with skim milk

1 glass of water


Mid morning snack

Natural low fat yogurt with ½ banana

Whole grain low fat/low sugar bar

1 glass of water



Chicken sandwich or hamburger on whole grain bread loaded with lettuce, tomato, and onion with mustard (no mayo or light mayo, no cheese)

Side salad with light vinaigrette instead of fries

Tea, skim milk (2% milk for kids)

1 glass of water


Mid afternoon snack

Cheese sticks (skim milk) cheddar or jalapeno pepper jack

1 apple, pear, banana or other fruit of choice

1 glass of water



Grilled fish or chicken atop oven roasted vegetables and potatoes and a vegetable soup or side salad with light vinaigrette

1 -5 oz. white or red wine

Coffee, tea or skim milk

1 glass of water



This is not only nutritious and delicious breakfast food, but it’s very satisfying and kids love it too. In my native land, this dish is traditionally made with old-fashioned oatmeal – however, an even healthier version of this recipe can be made with steel cut oats (aka Irish oats), which are nuttier and chewier.

Serves 2-4

4 cups skim milk

1/8 tsp. kosher salt

1 stick canela (Mexican cinnamon stick)

2 cups old fashioned oatmeal (or steel cut oats)*

Sugar to taste

1 cup sliced strawberries

1 cup sliced bananas

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, salt and cinnamon to a quick boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes to flavor the milk with the cinnamon.  Add the oatmeal and continue simmering until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 5-10 minutes.  Add sugar to taste.  Add more milk gradually if the mixture is too thick.  The consistency should be the one of a creamy soup.

Serve in soup cups garnished with the fruit.


To make the mixture creamier, soak the oatmeal in the milk or cold water in the refrigerator overnight.  Then add the cinnamon, salt and cook as directed above.  Soaking shortens the cooking process by about half the cooking time of raw oatmeal.

*To prepare with steel cut oats: soak overnight and cook the day after to shorten the cooking time and follow the recipe above.



Serves 2-4

2-4 eggs

4-8 corn tortillas (or whole wheat toast)

1 (16 oz.) can refried black beans organic, fat free

Prepare the eggs.  Pierce the eggs with an egg piercer to prevent cracking during cooking time.  Bring 4-5 cups of water to a rolling boil.  Immerse the eggs carefully with a slotted spoon and cook for 4 ½ minutes.  Remove the tops and serve with the corn tortillas (warming instructions below).  Sprinkle a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper on the eggs if desired.

Prepare the tortillas.  Warm the store-bought corn tortillas in a pre-heated toaster oven for 1-2 minutes (do not turn).  Tortillas should be pliable and if they don’t roll easily, keep them in the oven a little longer, but keep a close eye.  Spread 2-2 teaspoons of the bean puree on each tortilla and fold.


To add variety to the morning routine, prepare the eggs in different styles, i.e. hard boiled and sliced and place on top of whole wheat toast. If you must use a spread, choose Smart Balance with olive oil.

Corn tortillas can become crunchy quickly if overheated so keep a close eye.  Notice that when taken out of the package cold, they don’t bend as easily and they are hard and chewy.  Warming them makes them pliable and delicious.



Bison is delicious (grass-fed) and leaner, lower in calories and more nutritious than beef and not at all gamy.  Try the amazing taste and quality of the steaks and burgers – you will be hooked for life!

Serves 2-4

1 lb. ground round bison

1 cup small diced yellow onion

1 cup small diced Roma tomatoes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-4 butter lettuce leaves, washed, spun

2-4 slices salad tomatoes

2-3 slices red onions

1 (16 oz.) can refried black beans organic, fat free

2-4 whole wheat hamburger buns, grilled

Guatemalan guacamole:

1 avocado mashed with half lime, 1/8 tsp. dry oregano, 2 tsp. chopped onion, salt & pepper

Jalapeno ketchup:

¾ cup Heinz ketchup, ¼ cup minced pickled jalapenos, freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the patties.  Combine the bison ground round, the onion, the tomatoes and the seasonings in a medium bowl.  Form equal size patties.  Set aside.

Prepare all of the toppings and arrange attractively on a platter.  Set aside.

Heat the grill (or griddle) and cook the patties to desired doneness.  Slice and grill the buns.

Assemble the burgers.  Spread some guacamole on one side of the bun slices, and then spread black beans on the other side.  Add one slice of lettuce, then the patties, followed by the jalapeño ketchup and then the tomato. Serve.


Serves 2-4

2-4 russet potatoes, soaked, scrubbed, cut into 8ths lengthwise (do not peel)

Olive oil

Dry cilantro and parsley

Pimentón – Spanish paprika

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450°F. After slicing the potatoes, pat dry them with paper towels, and place them in a medium bowl and drizzle enough olive oil to coat them thinly and thoroughly.  Sprinkle the herbs and spices generously and season.  Use your hands to toss the potatoes to ensure a good coating of oil and the spice mixture.

Lay the potatoes face up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.  Roast them for 10-minute intervals turning the baking sheet around during the roasting time to roast evenly.  Roast until medium brown and puffy.  Total roasting time should be about 20-25 minutes.


Rosa de Jamaica is a refreshing traditional drink in a handful of Latin countries.  It is delicious, refreshing and full of antioxidants.  As easy as tea to make and as marvelous in a mixed drink – it lends itself to many preparations and concoction styles.

Serves 2-4

¾ cup dry Jamaica flower leaves steeped in 3 cups of hot water

2 cups cold water

Agave nectar

2-4 lime slices and ½ cup mint ribbons for garnish

Strain the tea and chill.  Add the cold water and adjust the strength to your taste.  Sweeten with agave nectar. Pour in tall glasses and garnish.



Serves 2-4

1 Lakewinds chipotle-lime rotisserie chicken (all natural), bones, fat and skin removed, shredded

1 (12 ct.) yellow or blue corn tortillas

1 avocado, pitted, peeled, sliced

2 cups shredded cabbage


Cilantro-lime-habanero-yogurt sauce:

1 cup fat free plain yogurt

The juice of one lime

½ – 1 tsp. minced habanero, seeded, deveined

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper



1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup cucumber, washed, unpeeled, seeded, diced

½ cup yellow bell pepper, seeded, deveined, diced

1 cup green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, left whole

½ cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves, left whole

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the tortillas.  Warm the store-bought corn tortillas in a pre-heated toaster oven for 1-2 minutes (do not turn).  Tortillas should be pliable and if they don’t roll easily, keep them in the oven a little longer, but keep a close eye. Transfer the warmed tortillas to a kitchen towel and set aside.

Prepare a food assembly line with tortillas, chicken, yogurt sauce, avocado, cabbage and salsita. Build the open-face-tortilla sandwich by following the food assembly line order.


To add variety to this menu, substitute the rotisserie chicken for sliced grilled bison steaks or fish.



Most items in these recipes are available at local grocery and Latin stores. Latin food sources include Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55407; Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55407; or El Burrito Mercado, 175 Cesar Chavez St. # 2, Saint Paul, MN 55107.