There is an energy in the room, a nervous tension you can almost see. Children take a seat, wondering who will end up sitting next to them. They look at me, many times afraid to talk any louder than a whisper, a voice filled with anxiety over what to expect in the next couple hours. As we begin to talk about food, tensions ease and excitement takes over. “Welcome to Nourish My Soul’s Jr Chef program, where we use real ingredients, cook from scratch, and YES, we use REAL chef knives!” “You give kids real knives??!!” Is probably what you’re thinking, it is the typical response I hear. We are a culture that is so afraid to allow our children to experience, explore, and experiment that we have stunted their growth as human beings.Of course there is risk in allowing children to use sharp objects, but the rewards are far greater. When a child feels valued and trusted to use dangerous tools and allowed to experiment with food, not only are they learning a necessary life skill, but you are also almost 100% guaranteed that he/she will eat that food. They may not always “like” it, but they will always try it – a top complaint from almost every parent “my child is such a picky eater.” Anyone who has been lucky enough to be placed in an uncertain situation yet encouraged and empowered by those around them can attest to the life changing power that has on your soul.
So I ask you, what are you doing to empower the children in your life? Are you ready to give them wings? Invite a child into the kitchen. Give them the power to chose what to create. Hand them a knife and a vegetable and then watch them as they instinctively eat that vegetable that they so carefully cut. Food connects us all, from young to old and country to country. Food is central to survival and human connection, yet we are not making it a priority. Families are busy, too busy to cook and rarely take the time to involve children. Schools have cut “Home Economics” programs that teach cooking skills and serve up heat and serve “foods” in their cafeterias. Our society is fast paced, eat on the run, grab and go meals. It is no wonder our children have dug in their heels and refuse foods. It is an act of defiance, an exertion of control over the one absolute necessity for human survival – food and nourishment.
I recently had a mother enroll her daughter in my Jr Chef program because her daughter absolutely refused to eat any fruits or vegetables. Each day, for the 5 days of class, this child tried every recipe we created. She was 11 yrs old and eating fruits and vegetables for the very first time in her life. Granted, she did not eat much, typically just a taste, but the important part was she was doing it without an adult telling her she had to. I never once asked her to. One of our kitchen rules is that you have to try something before you can offer an opinion. She knew that not only did she invest a lot of time into creating this food but also that she would be unable to participate in any discussion if she didn’t try it. She struggled with finding a way to prepare these foods that she would enjoy – I always tell the chefs not to write off a food simply because they did not enjoy the way it was prepared, you need to explore other ways of preparing it that will agree with your taste. Finally a light bulb went off for this young chef, she came in on the last day full of excitement as she announced ” I thought that if I cut my vegetables really, really small I can add a few into my favorite sauce and I think I would like it.” In only five days, she was able to go from complete refusal to willingness to experiment and find a way to incorporate her “hated” foods. I imagine had she not been empowered in this way and Mom tried to sneak really small vegetables into her favorite sauce, it would be met with feelings of anger, defiance, and refusal. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to feel as though I have been tricked, especially not by those I love.
Want a place to start? Try some of the recipes, each of which has been Jr Chef approved! This week our Jr Chef’s talked about breakfast around the world. We made Shakshuka, a common breakfast in Israel, and Sweet Potato Waffles, a healthy spin on a Northwestern European breakfast. (Sweet Potatoes put a South American spin on the breakfast) Watch for our upcoming knife skill video where our chefs will demonstrate proper knife technique to try at home.