A few weeks ago, I spent a memorable morning at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the South Bronx. Created in partnership with the New York Foundling, a well-respected social service agency, Haven Academy has a unique mission: to provide a comprehensive array of school-based services (medical care, dental checkups, counseling, you name it) to children in the child welfare system. The hope is that the school—the first of its kind in the nation—will become a nationwide model geared toward helping kids in foster care thrive despite their difficult family circumstances. I was unfamiliar with the school but fell instantly in love with its passionate principal and the cheerful, competent teachers I met in its immaculate halls and classrooms.

What brought me there specifically was a celebration of Food Day, a national movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food (think fewer sugary drinks, super-salty packaged foods and fatty meats, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains).

Two celebrity chefs, Food Network star Sunny Anderson and cookbook author Katie Lee, came to cook with nearly two dozen eager fourth-graders. (My oldest is in fourth grade, so these kids particularly touched my heart.) Katie offered up how-to’s for a flavorful bean-rich taco wrap, while Sunny shared a fantastic fruit concoction that I have made twice since. (Pineapple and coconut? Um, YES please.) Check out the recipes below and give them a try, preferably with a kid you love.

Meantime, with Thanksgiving right around the corner and plenty of reasons to be grateful, I just want to say that I’m honored to have met so many kind, concerned people at New York Foundling and Haven Academy working together to provide a brighter future for struggling kids. What a blessing.

Katie Lee’s Taco Wraps (serves 6)

You will need:

‧      1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

‧      1 tsp olive oil

‧      1 tbsp taco seasoning

‧      6 whole wheat tortillas

‧      1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

‧      1 cup baby spinach leaves or lettuce

‧      Salsa


1.     In a small bowl, mash beans with olive oil and taco seasoning.

2.     Spread a few tablespoons of beans on the center of each tortilla.

3.     Top with cheese, spinach and a couple tablespoons of salsa.

4.     Starting at the bottom, roll the sides of the tortilla over the filling. Fold edges in.

5.     Wrap in a piece of wax paper and cut in half.

Sunny Anderson’s Cucumber and Orange Salad with Creamy Pineapple Dressing (serves 4 to 6)

You will need:

For the dressing

‧      ½ cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained

‧      ¼ cup sour cream

‧      2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

‧      2 tsp sugar

‧      Kosher salt

For the salad

‧      2 oranges

‧      2 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise twice to quarter, then sliced ½ inch thick

‧      ½ cup finely chopped red onion

‧      2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes for garnish (optional)


1.    Make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine pineapple, sour cream, apple cider vinegar and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and is not gritty. Taste and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (optional).

2.    Prepare the oranges. Slice off the top and bottom of each orange to create a flat surface on both ends. With orange resting on one cut end, use a knife to cut between the flesh and the pith (white covering beneath peel), angling the knife to expose the flesh from top to bottom. Hold orange in one hand over a large bowl and carefully remove segments by sliding the knife between the flesh and the membrane that separates each segment. Repeat with second orange.

3.    Toss the salad with dressing. Add cucumber, red onion and dressing to bowl with oranges. Gently toss, then serve chilled or at room temperature with a sprinkle of coconut (optional).

P.S. Don’t miss Sunny Anderson's homemade Tomato Soup in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle, on sale January 7th!