“I’m Chef Caroline — and I like oranges!” a voice next to me peeped.
“Oranges? My favorite is strawberries!” another voice said as a mini toque fell to the floor.
A meeting of slightly disheveled professional kitchen staff? Not quite. A meeting of future chefs? Definitely.
I was surrounded by 12 young chefs outfitted in hats and aprons, all eager to cook. We were attending a Healthy Kids event at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO, and had an afternoon of tacos and smoothies ahead of us. The students were visibly excited — bouncing on their toes as they ogled the ingredients Executive Chef Ed Clark had laid out.
…the Healthy Kids program is about so much more than food and cooking: It’s about trusting kids. It’s about guiding them, but it’s also about respecting their choices.
I’ve hosted many cooking classes over the past four years and been involved with three Healthy Kids events, including this one. Cooking with kids was a weekly event in my former role as a FoodCorps service member, yet I continue to be amazed by the children’s excitement around food. Students practically danced as they shouted out different plant parts, so eager to show their knowledge and to move on to the main event of vegetable tacos and fruit smoothies.
We gathered the kids around the table to explain the different ingredients, several of which were new to them. Ed encouraged them to try one new food on their tacos — and then they were off, piling tortillas high with everything from red cabbage to pickled red onions. Ed, Sous Chef Jackie Lovecchio, and I walked among the tables, admiring colorful tacos and newly learned knife skills. The kids moved to fruit smoothie prep, and each one focused deeply on the task at hand, barely acknowledging our presence as they carefully chopped apples and strawberries.
As I snapped photos, I found myself reflecting on how the Healthy Kids program is about so much more than food and cooking: It’s about trusting kids. It’s about guiding them, but it’s also about respecting their choices.
Elementary schools students spend so much time working toward goals set by adults — getting a gold star or an A. Following directions, eating vegetables, practicing piano “because we said so” or “because it’s good for you.” Adults have lived longer; we are more knowledgeable. Yet we tend to make assumptions about the abilities of those younger than us. We worry about knives and hot stoves and whether a child will choose an apple over a candy bar. We don’t, however, always teach the skills to deal with those potential dangers or make an informed choice.
The Healthy Kids program is different. It provides guidelines for using knives and knowledge about choosing fruits and vegetables, allows students to decide what to create with the food in front of them, and instills confidence to explore and revisit their likes and dislikes. There is no “right” way to create a vegetable taco; the ingredients are presented, and the students drive the process. Allowing and trusting students to make responsible choices around food will create benefits likely to impact them positively throughout their lives.