Photos by Karen McCullough
Adults who care about eating healthy know that children need healthy foods too. But how to nurture little taste buds to appreciate what’s good for them? Involve them in the process! Including a child in meal preparation is a great strategy to develop his or her interest in eating right.
A local teacher has made it her mission to assist harried parents to do just that. While teaching preschool thru elementary grade levels over a number of years in area schools, Candace Williams noticed that many parents never include their kids in basic cooking tasks. A mother herself, Williams recognized the value assisting in the kitchen brings to young children. “Cooking is very hands on”, said Williams. “It incorporates art, math, science, geography, history and inspires creativity. And, if they participate, kids are much more likely to expand the array of foods they’ll try, such as vegetables, which is important to combating childhood obesity”.
Seeing a need in the market, in 2002 Williams and a partner opened the Kids Cooking Company, a culinary school dedicated to teaching toddler thru teenager level cooking skills in a fun environment. Now in its 7th year, the school located in Preston Royal Shopping Center in North Dallas offers classes and programs during the school year for
all ages, and weeklong camps during the summer for ages 4 thru 4th grade. They also accommodate special events such as birthday parties and programs for Scout, Y-Guide, and private groups.
Williams’ background in education has been indispensible in designing curriculum that’s age appropriate, understandable and engaging. Many classes enhance the theme by incorporating children’s literature. Her General Manager, Kim Rushing, an avid cook and former children’s minister, assists Williams. Both women feel strongly about including fresh ingredients and teaching little ones to respect origin and quality. “For kids, there’s such a disconnect between where food comes from and how it ends up on your plate”, Williams explained. The school also brings in guest teachers including culinary students, child psychologists and even artists to provide variety and keep the programming fresh.
Her own two daughters, Helen, age 10, and Elaine, age 8, provide the best feedback. “They are our testers”, said Williams. “They love to work together and develop new recipes, and they have no shortage of opinions, such as whether it’s spicy enough and if kids will like it” she said. Their dad, Wes, cooks too. The Williams Family practices what it preaches, and she fully relates to how tricky dinnertime can be with everyone vying for attention and homework to be done. However, the payoff in making time to include kids in meal prep is enormous. “Research has shown how beneficial it is for children to have responsibilities at home”, she notes. “When they contribute, there’s an increase in family cohesion.”
What’s the ideal age to start including kids in meals at home? “At two, children can stir water in a bowl, while you’re working on dinner. They can recognize colors and shapes.”
Instruction is offered to children between the ages of 2 ½ and 4 when accompanied by a parent and kids can come to classes independently at age 4. At age 9, the school introduces a carefully supervised knife skills course. Classes for the 12–18 year-olds teach teen chefs advanced culinary techniques such as baking bread, dredging, roux
making and creating pastries.
For Williams, operating the school is a satisfying endeavor. “We have a lot of aspiring young chefs”, she said. “It serves the community. We’re teaching life skills. They love food and want to cook for the rest of their lives.”
Contact Information: Kids Cooking Company, 6025 Royal Lane, Suite
225, Dallas, TX, 75230. (214) 265-9949. kidscookingcompany.com .
VALERIE JARVIE is a Dallas-based freelance food writer. She holds a BBA in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin and became a stay-at-home mom in 1989. Having grown up in a family in which the nightly dinner together was considered sacred, her creative outlet became developing culinary expertise to share with her own growing family and friends. As an extension of this, Valerie began writing articles profiling home cooks and chefs for area publications when her children were small, working mostly while waiting in the carpool line at school. Now that her kids are almost grown, she especially appreciates the value of sharing with little ones this very important enhancement to life.