People and programs 01/18/2015

Do you remember how old you were when you cooked your first meal? Not toast, not cereal, not hot dogs in a frying pan — your first real meal. For the kids in the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre's Young Cooks in the Kitchen program, the answer is, young! Over two sessions held last fall and this winter, two groups of 7 to 10-year-olds have been learning how to make pasta and sauce, salads of all kinds, rice and meatballs, wraps, and lots more. The verdict? "I’m learning how to do all kinds of cooking," said one enthusiastic young cook. And it's not just recipes they're learning. "Kitchen safety, knife skills, process of making something from scratch, where foods come from, what are healthy foods, working together so that everyone feels good being there." That's Deborah Dickey, listing off more of the subjects the kids have covered by the end of their session — skills that she hopes will form a solid foundation for more food learning in the future. By all indications, those learning opportunities are very welcome: "I got to use a knife today. My mom doesn’t let me do that at home," reports an excited participant. 

How do you manage a group of high-energy whippersnappers in the kitchen? "We've found that breaking the kids into groups of three and having an adult work directly with each group has been the best way to help them learn, keep them safe, and create a positive social experience that some them haven’t had in other programs/school," says Dickey. "Inappropriate behaviours are minimized, and this approach sets up an environment where the children’s strengths can really come out and be acknowledged."

The approach seems to be working. Both sessions of the program have filled up quickly with kids of varying experience levels, backgrounds, and interest in the kitchen. Each week, the recipes the kids make are printed out on recipe cards and sent home with them, where they can be shared with parents and siblings. Dickey says the cards are a big hit. And if you think kids being excited about recipes is a feat, this will impress you even more: the kids even help with kitchen clean-up! A Kitchen Task Chart that lists six tasks with text and pictures is posted in the kitchen during the program. The children know that whenever they do a task, they can write their name next to that picture. Dickey has found that every child wants to have their name by every task several times before the end of each session. The Chart has turned out to be a ‘no nag’ way to have them take part in the clean-up. Parents take note!

The Young Cooks in the Kitchen is one of many programs that will be offered at the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre when it moves into its new digs this summer. Stay tuned for more great stories!