Monday night marked the first graduation ceremony of Share Our Strength's Operation Frontline (OFL) Side By Side program in La Plata County.
Side By Side is a four-week nutrition and cooking education program for parents and their children to take together. As five families shared a meal of build-your-own breakfast burritos and made-from-scratch pumpkin muffins, they talked about what they learned or liked best about the class.
Across the board, the children enjoyed cooking. They liked learning new recipes and new techniques in the kitchen, and they were able to celebrate and be proud of the healthful, tasty meals they made each week. The parents talked about how interested and involved their kids were in the cooking portion of the program and the number of things they could do in the kitchen. One parent said the class provided a safe environment for experimentation when it came to meal building as a family.
In addition to learning various cooking techniques, children (and parents) tried new foods. Side By Side participants tried recipes using eggplant, zucchini, quinoa, turkey sausage and beets as key ingredients. Although some of the ingredients were new for participants, by encouraging them to hold a raw beet in their hand, smell it as it rubbed against a grater and see the brightly colored vegetable pile up on a cutting board, they were unable to resist taking a bite of an unfamiliar food.
This class reminded how much I enjoy seeing children and parents cook together and what a natural process it can be. The trick to getting children involved in the kitchen is to have them help plan and prepare recipes with age-appropriate activities that can be divided among a group.
If you have small children at home, think about recipes that require measuring - use measuring cups and spoons with dry ingredients, and mixing bowls and spoons with wet ingredients. Washing food is a must for most recipes and can also safely engage young kids in meal preparation. You can also get kids to give washed greens a whirl in the salad spinner.
Have children practice tearing leafy vegetables and herbs. As they get more comfortable and more focused in the kitchen, try giving them a cutting board and knife. If kids are just learning knife handling, you might try a salad knife with them for starters. These are plastic chef knives typically used for slicing heads of lettuce, but can cut through most produce, cheeses and breads. The key is to create good habits with whatever knife you choose. Older kids may also be excited about tending the stove or pulling things in and out of the oven.
Grating cheese, opening cans and setting and clearing the table - no job is too small or unimportant. Engaging children in meal preparation takes some planning, but makes cooking much more rewarding for all. Most importantly, it helps kids build healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6469. Katy Pepinsky is Operation Frontline program coordinator for Southwest Colorado.