Classes hope to impart healthy eating to cooks, children
by Staff Writer
A healthy future for a lot of children starts with healthy eating habits. That’s the message Healthy Futures Starting in the Kitchen wants child-care facilities to learn.
Health Futures “is for child-care cooks and teaches them basic nutrition and gives them time in (Central Piedmont Community College) kitchens to learn basic skills,” Priscilla Laula, health educator at the Mecklenburg County Health Department, said.
The five-week course was developed by the health department in partnership with Johnson and Wales University of Charlotte in 2008 as a way to help address childhood obesity. Smart Start of Mecklenburg County funded the program with a grant.
“It is really important to get children started out right with healthy foods,” Laula said.
The program has seen 100 child-care facilities “graduate” in the Charlotte region, with child-care cooks taught basic nutritional knowledge to help them prepare healthy, delicious foods that get children excited about healthy eating.
Chefs at child-care agencies learn everything from the nutritional value of different foods to how to cut and prepare certain vegetables and meats. They meet in a classroom at the community college’s main campus to offer each other new ideas and techniques in an environment where they too can enjoy the delicious food.
“It is a program with lots of perks and encouragement,” Laula said. “We want children to learn to enjoy and taste healthy foods,” Laula said. “There are so many children who don’t get a great start” with healthy eating.
The program also gives cooks suggestions and tips on ways to introduce healthy foods to children who are picky eaters.
“The message is if (the children) don’t like it this time, don’t give up,” Laula said.
That’s one of the core concepts that Caroline Walker, managing partner of Ballencrest Academy in south Charlotte, walked away with.
“The kids’ response has been a little bit mixed, but that is the message ... don’t give up trying,” Walker said.
Walker took in the course in April along with her child-care facility’s cook and has since brought back much of her knowledge to Ballencrest’s kitchen. The facility already was striving to provide healthier food options for its young charges, serving its children all organic fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
Getting healthy habits in the home
If parents are interested in providing more healthy fare at home, Gypsy Soup has an answer: Get the kids involved in the process.
Stacey Dowd, owner of the Huntersville cooking and dining school, has been imparting healthy eating habits to children for years as part of her “Hands on Cooking” classes.
The trick, she said, is empowering kids in the kitchen so they can enjoy learning the healthy foods they like.
“A lot of the kids I see are prepackaged-food kids,” Dowd said. “They really only eat prepackaged foods and haven’t really tried certain types of healthier alternatives.”
In her class, Dowd asks the kids what they like to eat, which is usually a pre-made or prepackaged snack, and teaches them how to make the same thing in their own kitchen.
“I’ll explain to them the ingredients … I’ll show them a spice and ask them ‘Do you like the smell of this?’ ‘How about the taste of it?’ And you start to notice that if they are touching it and smelling it and then putting it into a dish, they start to enjoy more foods and eating things they would never before.”
The lessons in the classroom almost always spill over into the home, with the kids pushing the parents to make different dishes and wanting to help out in the kitchen, Dowd said.
“I’ll get calls from the parents a few days into the class about how their kid has seen something on the Food Network they want to try or how they want to put another ingredient in a dish … It’s really amazing how quickly they adapt to the different kinds of foods,” Dowd said.
Want to learn more?
Find more information on Gypsy Soup’s “Hands on Cooking” at Dowd’s website, www.gypsysoup.com. Dowd will host another week-long class the first and second week in August. Classes cost $225.