Most experts agree that top-down food policy has little meaning if the eating habits of children and young people aren’t being shaped day by day. Classes in schools, after school, and on weekends are teaching kids how to appreciate fresh, local food—and most importantly, how to cook it too. There are a handful of huge, nationwide cooking programs doing good work, but we wanted to celebrate several you may not have heard of whose classes and programs are shaping their communities by changing the way young people (and their families) eat.
(Photo: Baerbel Schmidt/Getty Images)
Cooking With Kids, Santa Fe, NM
What began in 1995 as a volunteer-led course in two Santa Fe elementary schools now reaches more than 4,000 pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students in ten schools. The program combines cooking classes with tasting classes in which students use all their senses to explore produce they may not have had at home. Cooking With Kids also makes many of its recipes and curricula available for download.
Run by the food advocacy nonprofit REAP Food Group, Chef in the Classroom is one of several innovative farm-to-school programs that connect children with local foods. The nonprofit brings local Madison chefs into schools to cook local, healthy meals with middle- and high-schoolers. Check out its new manual for food educators: Cooking Local in the Classroom.
(Photo: Tina Stallard/Getty Images)
Jr. Iron Chef VT, Essex Junction, VT
Now in its sixth year, Jr. Iron Chef VT brings together some of the top middle and high school chefs in the Green Mountain State for a cookoff. The competition is a collaboration between Vermont FEED and the Burlington School Food Project, which promote farm-to-school programs and food education throughout the state. In 2012, more than 300 students (and their families) descended on Essex to cook and serve seasonal, local food in this creative forum—further cementing Vermont’s status as one of America’s raddest food states.
(Photo: Jr. Iron Chef VT)
Purple Asparagus, Chicago, IL
Before she began working to transform the food habits of more than 5,000 students in 30 Chicago schools, Purple Asparagus founder Melissa Graham’s adventures came in the courtroom as an attorney. These days, she’s leading the award-winning organization, bringing “Delicious, Nutritious Adventures” to urban schools. Half of the once-a-month class is spent getting kids excited about healthy foods that they may be unfamiliar with, while the second half is spent learning simple, healthy recipes they can cook at home.
(Photo: Purple Asparagus)
DooF, San Francisco, CA
Parents often lament the barrage of junk-food marketing their kids are exposed to throughout the day. Think of DooF as the antithesis to negative food advertising. With its mission of “making good food fun,” DooF (“food” backwards, if you didn’t already catch that) shows children the journey foods take from farm to table with hilarious, kid-produced videos, cooking demonstrations and live programs in Bay Area schools.
The Sylvia Center, Kinderhook, NY
The Sylvia Center works in New York City and the Hudson Valley to show kids and their families where food comes from, how it grows, and how to turn it into a healthy meal. Its 60-acre Katchkie Farm operates using sustainable farming practices, while the center’s educational programs emphasize eating whole foods of the season.
(Photo: The Sylvia Center)
UNM Cooks, Minneapolis, MN
“While these are not ‘children,’ most university-aged ‘kids’ have come from homes where they never learned to cook and out of K-12 systems where Home Ec. is basically an extinct subject,” says Kristine Igo. Igo is the co-instructor and designer of UMN Cooks, a course that teaches University of Minnesota undergraduates about food system issues, encourages them to participate in an on-campus cooking lab, and assigns weekly home-cooking projects.
(Photo: UNM Cooks)
Chow Bella Kids, Lafayette, CA
Specializing in kids parties, classes, camps and field trips that all center around cooking, Chow Bella is creatively connecting Bay Area young people to the food they eat. The brochure for its summer-camp themed “At Nonni’s Table” reads, “If you don’t already have an Italian grandmother, you will want one after this week of delicious Italian favorites.”
(Photo: Echo/Getty Images)
Pure Food Kids’ Workshop, Washington, Oregon and New York
Beecher’s makes damn good cheese, but its commitment to doing good is just as admirable. With its Pure Food Kids’ Workshop, Beecher’s Flagship Foundation has reached more than 20,000 students, teachers and volunteers with its challenge to make healthy food choices. In its two-and-a-half-hour classes, students learn how to break down marketing messages, how to read food labels and ingredients list, and how to cook a healthful chili.
(Photo: Ryan McVay/Getty Images)
Kids Cooking Green, Lexington, MA
In this fast-growing program, third- through fifth-graders participate in four- or five-week afterschool cooking classes. In addition to food preparation, the kids learn about buying locally, visit a farmers market, and cook and serve a celebratory dinner for their families at the class’ conclusion. Cofounder Lori Deliso is often asked why she keeps her programs mainly in the suburbs. Her response? Between work schedules and rushing between after-school activities, families in the ’burbs are every bit as likely to neglect sitting down as a family for a healthy meal.
One in four children in the United States is considered "food insecure," meaning that they don't know where their next meal is coming from. This is an overwhelming problem, and efforts to address it affect public policy, poverty, the economy, and even the ingredients in the foods we eat. But — it is solvable.
One in five children in the United States is considered "food insecure," meaning that they don't know where their next meal is coming from at some point during the year. This is an overwhelming problem, and efforts to address it affect public policy, poverty, the economy, and even the ingredients in the foods we eat. But — it is solvable.
Organizations across the country are making it easy for you to take action to prevent children from going hungry. You can make a donation, help schools provide breakfast and lunch to students, or raise awareness about this problem in your community.
Take the pledge below to take action against child hunger in the United States.
I pledge to support organizations that are fighting child hunger.
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One in four children in America live in food insecure homes. Together we can decrease poverty and end child hunger in America.
Steve Holt's story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011 His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places.Email Steve | @thebostonwriter | TakePart.com