Cooking Matters: Teaching Kids To Cook In San FranciscoMon 23 Dec 2013
Story by Annelies Zijderveld
The need for food education
“Cooking is an elective sport.” As Michael Pollan uttered these words in his book, Cooked, it made the hairs on my arms rise, knowing the truth of his statement on the cooking crisis in America and how each of us must do something to change it.
Earlier this year, I departed work early for six weeks, leaving behind my business cards to strap on an apron. During that time, a small team of volunteers helped teach a Cooking Matters class for kids on nutrition and how to cook. The children brought with them a kinetic energy ready to be harnessed into something exciting.
Learning to cook while coming together
The classes developed an easy flow, with the first 20 minutes focusing on the food group of the week, teaching nutrition through games and Q&As. Once the cooking portion of the class began, the children scrambled over to the door of the classroom and followed us down into the warm belly of the kitchen. They eagerly selected their prep stations, each having a hand in the food we cooked. We taught them how to read a recipe before commencing and to make sure to gather all the ingredients, like we did with the prep stations before beginning to tackle the recipe. At the end of the evening, we would sit together and eat. That small act of breaking bread together at the close of class brought us together for common good.
If you think about the dexterity children have for learning languages at a young age, it’s not a far leap to think about how their minds can hold onto cooking skills. Sure, there are still some elements best left for the adults and supervision is key, but I’m of the mind that we give children short shrift far too often. In our vegetable-themed class, I saw a girl tentatively try her first purple cauliflower floret and then reached out for another one, munching happily. During our whole grain class, we scraped the pot of whole-wheat stovetop macaroni and cheese with broccoli “trees” clean.
The gift of cooking
Cooking matters because kids matter. There is an adage that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” To teach a child to cook is one of the biggest gifts an adult can give them. Eli, one of the camp counsellors from this community who corralled the kids into the classroom each week, remarked how the children chattered to their parents about how much fun they had in cooking class. As their teacher, I could see it in their fidgety bodies, itching to break away from the nutrition lessons so they could get busy processing a head of broccoli (curb those fingers in like a claw!) or stripping kale leaves from the stems. No measuring spoon was too small and no stir-time too short. Children like cooking and are apt to eat food normally thought of as food that “kids don’t like,” as long as they help prepare it.
As a home cook, I had agreed to teach this class worried I might not know enough. The necessary ingredients for teaching became evident: enthusiasm, passion, flexibility and a heaping serving of love. For six weeks, these children became my kids, my students, and I could help them on their paths. The hardest part about teaching the class came on graduation day, knowing the unlikelihood of our paths crossing again. I wondered whether they would make the English muffin pizzas stacked high with spinach and mushrooms. I mulled whether they might teach their parents to make the black bean dip and baked tortilla chips they had devoured.
One child, Finn, displayed a keen aptitude for cooking, both in his singularity of focus and his precision. I secretly hoped he would continue to practice this skill. Beth stayed stuck to my side like a diminutive shadow wanting to help out as much as she could. As the educational component of Share our Strength, Cooking Matters classes occur all over the U.S. with a straightforward curriculum that puts real food first. Share our Strength’s focus on ensuring No Kid goes Hungry in the U.S. understands that teaching a child to cook is as important as making sure they have access to food.
The opportunity is before us: we can actively make a difference in our local community by sharing our love for cooking with children (and adults). By establishing the truth that cooking matters, we acknowledge that our community matters and we cement a strong future ahead for our children and future generations.
About the Author: When she’s not teaching kids to cook, Annelies Zijderveld dwells in San Francisco and works in the food industry. Her passion for real food, cooking and food literacy keeps her busy supporting local organizations like 18 Reasons and California Food Literacy Center. She writes the food poetry blog, the food poet, selected by Alimentum Magazine as one of their favorite food blogs in 2013. Find her on twitter, instagram, google+ and pinterest at @anneliesz.
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