Niki Bezzant: No one is ever too young to cook

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Put kids cooking in a kitchen and they won’t be fussy eaters for long.
Garden to Table schools grow vegetables, then the kids learn to turn the produce into something for the whole class to eat. Photo / 123RF.COM
Garden to Table schools grow vegetables, then the kids learn to turn the produce into something for the whole class to eat. Photo / 123RF.COM

How young is too young for kids to learn how to cook? You're never too young, might be the answer.

As soon as they're old enough to pick up a knife could be the best time to get them into the kitchen.

This week I observed some impressive knife skills from Year 3 and 4 students at Dominion Rd School in Auckland.

It's a Garden to Table school, in which half the class work in the garden planting, weeding, fertilising and harvesting and the other half are in the kitchen cooking.

At the end the class comes together to share experiences, then sits down to eat the meal they've all created.

It's a simple formula. But beneath the surface there's a lot of learning going on.

There is maths and science: why and how do we dilute that worm fertiliser? Why does steam happen when we add liquid to a pan?

There is language: what do you call someone who's an expert in mushrooms? What's another name for coriander?

There is problem solving, teamwork and sharing.

And there are the subtle lessons learned unconsciously: where food comes from; how it gets from the garden to the plate; and that plant foods are not only healthy but also delicious.

The class I visited harvested silver beet, herbs and salad from the garden, which they made into silver beet potsticker dumplings and a "salad of the imagination".

I have never seen kids eat silver beet and salad so fast or with such gusto. It goes to show that when they're involved with their food, they are much more likely to eat it.

There's not a lot of research in this area but what there is shows kids involved in cooking education programmes eat more fruit, vegetables and fibre, show a greater willingness to try new foods and an increased confidence in their ability to cook.

It's no surprise the recent WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity report included in its recommendations the need for children be given cooking education. It's a real shame this is not happening in all schools here.

Some other inspiring kids are the winners of the Nutrition Foundation's Just Cook competition, which I recently judged. The competition aims to inspire kids from 11 to 18 to learn to cook and develop the necessary skills to eat well for life.

There were joint winners in the Sanitarium category, in which students had to come up with a plant-based family recipe. They were 13-year-old twins, Brooke and Olivia Moore.

Both came up with imaginative, healthy and delicious-sounding dishes. Both are passionate cooks.

Seeing kids of all ages so enthusiastic about food gives me hope for the future.

Hope that despite the bleak predictions, the next generation may turn out to be healthier than us after all.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide

- NZ Herald

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