By Frankie Beach, Nutrition Program Coordinator, AmeriCorps Member.
A little while ago, I had the opportunity to facilitate my first cooking class with kids, specifically preschool aged kids. What struck me the most about this experience was the excitement that kids naturally have about food, even healthy food, when they are given the chance to engage with the cooking process. Every kid was eager to have a chance to mix the chickpeas in the spices, or sprinkle cinnamon on apples. They were curious about the process and their role in it, which in the end made them excited to try new foods.
We tend to think of kids as being picky when it comes to more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and more excited by the prospect of sugary treats and processed foods. And the reality is that this is generally true. Inspiring kids to eat healthy food can sometimes feel like a hopeless battle when, for example, they proclaim that they “ don’t eat vegetables” like it’s a personal philosophy and refuse to touch anything that resembles a plant.
But these are also partly learned preferences that result from kids being detached from what they are consuming. I think that allowing kids to engage in the cooking process and learn about the food they eat is vital to their sense of agency regarding food.
When I watched their faces light up as they tried baked chickpeas for the first time, I felt not only an immense joy, but I also gained a solidified sense of the importance of my role here as an educator. I’ve read statistics about the impact of nutrition education in schools and how it is correlated with healthier outcomes later in life, but actually witnessing the change it made allowed me to see exactly how this plays out on an individual level.
After class, one kid asked to take some chickpeas home to his mother to show her how good they are, and another asked us if we could come back the next day. They all showed excitement at the idea of cooking these snacks at home. Everything starts with these small changes, like influencing the way one kid looks at chickpeas, with excitement instead of disgust. I’m looking forward to continuing to be involved with cooking/nutrition education and seeing first hand how it impacts behaviors and preferences regarding food!