Teaching Kids About Food (Part 2): Tips for Starting a Preschool Cooking Class
|June 21, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Cooking with kids, Food education|
Recently, I had the great pleasure of featuring a very special preschool cooking class launched last fall by a teacher at my twins’ school. No one at the preschool had ever attempted something like Cooking Kiddos before. Without precedent or an experienced co-worker to guide her, Alicen Stonebraker, aka Miss Ali, had to figure out a lot on her own. (And do I ever love her for being brave enough to take it on!). With 20-plus youngsters (ages 4 to 6) attending her weekly class, she quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. Here, Miss Ali graciously shares her tips for venturing into the kitchen (or preparing food in the classroom) with a group of eager little ones. If you’d like students to experience the benefits of hands-on food education at your school, read on to learn how she gets the job done:
Tips for Cooking With Kiddos
Keep it consistent It helps to have your cooking class on the same day each week if you wish to make it part of your regular curriculum. Both kids and parents like to know what to expect.
Hit up the parents Asking parents to donate food not only helps minimize costs, it’s a great way to get them involved–and their kids excited. A week before each Cooking Kiddos class, I’d send out an email to notify parents of the featured recipe and provide a list of needed ingredients, asking them to respond with “Reply to all” if they were able to contribute. In these emails, I’d include a recap of the previous class and a special acknowledgement to families that contributed items. I’ve found that most parents are thrilled that you are getting their child to try new foods and are happy to bring in an ingredient.
Be alert to allergies Keep a detailed list of food allergies and sensitivities visible in your classroom and/or kitchen. Always refer to this list when considering s recipe. Parents are usually very happy to bring a substitute item, such as a gluten-free tortilla or soy milk, for their child. It’s also fun to try these substitutes with all of the kiddos.
Purchase supplies Stock up on small paper plates and plastic utensils (knives, forks and spoons).
Chop, chop With my large group of kids, I don’t have much time to cut vegetables during class. I try to pre-cut any large hard veggies and place pictures of the vegetable whole on the wall. Soft/small veggies like green onions can be cut by kiddos with kid scissors. Our school recently purchased a few kid friendly veggie choppers that we will be utilizing (with supervision).
Line it up Good organization and planning are key to ensuring that all goes smoothly. Think carefully about each ingredient, spice, utensil and pan etc. that you may need. The more time you waste during class looking for an object, the quicker the kiddos become distracted. Place all ingredients and cooking tools out on a counter so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
Talk about safety Before each class, I always review basic safety rules with the kids. I also set up a designated “safe zone” where they are instructed to sit while waiting for their turn to help.
Scrub up I have yet to find kiddo-sized disposable gloves. So I have my students carefully scrub up with soap and warm water. I then instruct them to keep “doctor’s hands” (hands in the air in front of them) while they wait for their friends to finish washing up. If I spy them touching their or a friend’s face, mouth or hair, they are sent to wash again. They eventually get really good at keeping clean.
Keep it low stress I rarely follow recipes to a “T” and you shouldn’t torture yourself with it, either. It is so easy to get hot and stressed during this time. Just remember, if it isn’t fun for everyone, it isn’t worth it!
Skip the “weird” food Think like a kid and keep your meal healthy and simple. I often make familiar meals with a healthy twist. Earn their trust at the beginning with recognizable things then get more daring as you go. Don’t over spice. Kiddo taste buds are different than your own. See my list of recipe ideas below.
Think mini Children love kid-sized food. It makes them feel like it’s just for them and keeps them from being overwhelmed by the portion.
Discuss what’s in it Question and explain where foods come from—no “sneaky chef” recipes! When I first started my cooking class, my kiddos thought bacon came from bushes because they both started with “B.” It’s important to talk food growth, production and nutrition with them. Use charts, photos and the Internet to visually show your children where foods come from and what works best for their bodies.
Healthy it up Keep added salt to a minimum, incorporate veggies as much as you can, and use healthy substitutions. There are many more examples, but here are a few easy, kid friendly ones:
- Instead of ground beef, use ground turkey
- Instead of sour cream, use plain Greek yogurt
- Instead of eggs, use egg whites
- Instead of white sugar, use honey
- Instead of nuts, use browned oats
- Instead of vegetable oil, use olive oil
- Instead of white bread, use whole-wheat bread
Make it hands-on Involve the kids with every rip of a bag, scissor cut, scoop, stir, button push, measurement, pour, mash, whisk, strain and roll. They are also pretty great at the dish washing sink. Keep it safe and always have eyes in the back of your head.
Talk tools Identify each cooking tool used in class. Focus on whisking one week then explain why you’re using a spoon with a hole in it the next week.
Watch the numbers Keep a ratio of no more than 10:1 (kids to staff) to ensure safety and productivity. I try to use the same teaching aide each week with my large group. She knows the rules and helps me keep the kids occupied with cooking, cleaning or singing while they wait.
Don’t watch the pot If you need to wait for something to cook, get the kids busy with physical activity in the classroom or outdoors. It will help the time go faster and let the kids get their wiggles out.
Ding! Time to Eat!
Teach good manners Remind kids to use their restaurant manners by saying “Please” and “Thank you!” Napkins in the lap, eat over your plate, use your utensils correctly (plastic knifes come in handy often), ask to be excused, and then wait at the table for your friends to finish.
Require a polite bite I expect every child in my class to taste our creation. I tell them to take a good (not mouse-size!) bite. This is the most challenging time for you and those picky eaters. Be strong! Whatever you do, don’t give up! If you let one kiddo slide, you might as well throw in the towel for the rest of the year. If they are willing to try a bite easily and say they don’t like it, I try to probe for another bite that I fix up to make sure they get the full flavor. To those who say, “I’ve had this before and I don’t like it,” here are my tricks:
- Give it time and see if their friends’ reactions to the food tempt them to take a bite
- Praise their classmates for trying
- I explain (to the group) that as we grow, our bodies change and so do those magic bumps on our tongue. You may have grown since the last time you tried this and it will probably taste different this time.
- Give a non-food reward (such as a sticker) to all those who give the dish a good try!
- I explain to the group that I didn’t make this food, they did.
- I share a personal story of being scared to try a food, trying it and loving it.
- I share a personal story of a food I tried it and I hated it. Then one day I tried it a different way and I loved it. Show your fears and enthusiasm for trying new foods.
- I say, what if I was invited to your house, you made your favorite meal for me and I refused to even try it. How would that make you feel?
- It’s your individual preference but I do allow the word, “hate” when pertaining to foods. I say, give it one bite, and then you can tell me you hate it, then we will be done. It’s all about baby steps for a really selective eater.
- When all else fails…Use a teeny, tiny, little sprinkle of your “Magic Shake” (salt for savory meals) or your “Gooey Goodness” (honey for sweets). Sometimes I can get away with even pretending to sprinkle or pour it on.
It’s always a success as long as you don’t burn down the kitchen. Good luck!
Sample Cooking Kiddos Recipes
Mini Messy Meatball Sandwiches: whole-wheat hoagies, ground turkey, finely cut green bell pepper and onion, oregano, basil, spaghetti sauce
Fishy tacos: skillet cod with taco seasoning, raw cut cabbage, warmed corn tortillas, low-fat plain Greek yogurt
Vegetarian Sheppard’s Pie: pre-cooked corn and chopped carrots and celery layered with mashed potatoes and basil
Rock ‘n Roll Ups: spinach tortillas spread with low-fat cream cheese, ham and pre-cut cucumber, rolled up and cut to reveal spiral
Cute Quiche: egg, pre-cooked and chopped bacon, pre-cut red bell pepper and cheese baked in well-oiled muffin tin
Sweet Potato Patties: sweet potatoes, green onion, egg, browned oats, bread crumbs and a splash of orange juice formed into a patty and baked, then topped with low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with dill
Slop Sloppy Joes: whole-wheat buns, ground turkey with sloppy joe seasoning, black beans, corn, green pepper, onion
The Best Nest: bake string hash browns, kids peel boiled eggs, serve with ketchup.
Apple Eggrolls: press eggroll sheets in oiled muffin tins. Add pre-peeled and cut apples, unsweetened applesauce and cinnamon; close the top and brush with egg whites. Bake, drizzle small amount of caramel, sprinkle small amount of powdered sugar on top.
Stone Soup: each child brings any vegetable, boil and spice to taste
Happy Hummus: combine garbanzo beans, lime juice and garlic in food processor; bake pita bread to make chips and serve with fresh sliced red bell pepper
Chili Con Cupcakes: mix cooked ground beef, corn, diced tomatoes and black beans with egg and a small amount of bread crumbs; sprinkle cheese on top and bake in oiled muffin tins, then serve with a dollop of low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt
Eggroll Muffins: With a little water on your fingers, press in eggroll sheets in oiled muffin tins. Fill with cooked chicken/coldslaw in teriyaki sauce. Stuff and close top, brush with egg whites for glaze. Bake and serve with choice of soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce.
Pineapple Pizza: English muffin, plain spaghetti sauce, pineapple, ham, sprinkle of mozzarella