My name is Frankie and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps member with Hunger Intervention Program (HIP) in Lake City, Seattle. As Nutrition Program Coordinator, I organize the Healthy HIP Pack program which provides healthy meals for kids over the weekend, and the nutrition education programs such as Cooking Matters and after-school enrichment at elementary schools. With the help of our incredible volunteers, we make and distribute about 160 packs each week for kids at 7 different schools in North King County.
Last month, I had the opportunity to facilitate my first cooking class with kids, specifically preschool aged kids. What struck me the most about this experience was the excitement that kids naturally have about food, even healthy food, when they are given the chance to engage with the cooking process. Every kid was eager to have a chance to mix the chickpeas in the spices, or sprinkle cinnamon on apples. They were curious about the process and their role in it, which ultimately made them more excited to try new foods.
We tend to think of kids as being picky when it comes to more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and more excited by the prospect of sugary treats and processed foods. But the reality is that these are partly learned preferences, and ones that result from kids being detached from what they are consuming. I think that allowing kids to engage in the cooking process and learn about the food they eat is vital to their sense of agency regarding food and their bodies. Especially now in the US where affordable healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult to access, it’s important that people are able to have this kind of agency– and learning from such a young age can definitely make a difference.
Beyond the joy I experienced from seeing their faces light up as they tried baked chickpeas for the first time, I also gained a solidified sense of the importance of nutrition education. I’ve read statistics about the impact of nutrition education in schools and how it is correlated with healthier outcomes later in life, but this experience allowed me to see exactly how this plays out on an individual level. After class, one kid asked to take some chickpeas home to his mother to show her how good they are, and another asked us if we could come back the next day. They all showed excitement at the idea of cooking these snacks at home. I’m looking forward to continuing to be involved with cooking/nutrition education and seeing first hand how it impacts behaviors and preferences regarding food!