by Jay Johnson
As the Youth Program Coordinator at VGI, I have the privilege of working with young people and teaching them how to grow and cook food. Every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout this past school year I cooked with about 15 elementary school aged children at their after-school club. To many of you, that probably sounds like a nightmare. I mean, fifteen third graders with knives and hot stoves?!? Even though it sounds like an absurd idea, I have learned a lot from young people and cooking with them.
- Imperfection is OK: When we watch those recipe videos on Facebook they always have the perfect amount of ingredients, it comes out perfect, and it looks tasty. While there are recipes for food, often young people get super excited to make things like blueberry pancakes and overestimate the amount of baking soda needed, or are underenthuised to make things like a black eye pea salad because they hate one veggie that is in it. Needless to say every recipe is a new adventure. Although things may not turn out as planned, such as bean burgers falling apart or finding out accidentally adding spinach to the black eyed pea salad doesn’t taste bad, we find what matters most in the end is the experience and the memories.
- Young people enjoy the agency cooking gives them: Agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. Oftentimes young people, particularly elementary aged young people, do not get a chance to make their own choices. Especially at school! School environments tend to be a sit-and-get environment where young people are told what to do pretty much all day. Within reason, I ask students what are some dishes that they would like to make, and because of that we have made things like veggie soup, quesadillas, and guacamole! Having the say in what they cook has students far more engaged in their recipes and eating the food they make.
- Young people are really proud of what they make: I can not tell you how many times students have asked me if they could bring some of the food they made home for their family to try or see if they can run some down the hall to their favorite teacher! Even if the food looks or tastes less than spectacular, young people take pride in the food they have made and want to share with others.
- Kids really love to try new things: Growing up we probably all were picky eaters. Our parents threw a plate of those gross looking vegetables and sauces in front of us and we adamantly refused to eat it. When children are involved in making and cooking food, I see they are more willing to try new things. For example, when we make vegetable trays, instead of the usual vegetables I will throw in a vegetable like a radish or instead of tortilla chips I will substitute pita chips for dips we make. Since they were involved in the prep of the food it is a lot easier to convince them to try new things and ask for them again.
Overall, just as much as I have taught young people about cooking and preparing food, they have taught me equally as much. From them I have learned, food is a great way to link generations and learn more about yourself and others. If you are interested in more resources about cooking with children feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.