Most of you know I cook with kids in the pre-k class at my kids school. I love it. I really do. I love it so much I'm writing a book about it. And I'm also pleased that so many people are thinking about what kids are eating. Everyday I read about people who are out there, cooking with kids, sharing new foods and flavors with them, trying to shake things up. It's wonderful and from this, good things will happen.
But something else has been happening, too. A large number of well-meaning people are out there making cooking with kids the most boring, uncool, sleep-inducing thing that has ever happened to food. I'm not talking about Department of Health programs actually designed to reach kids and families that might be experiencing food scarcity issues, but rather, well-intentioned parents, bloggers, school boards, parent committees and educators hell-bent on connecting food with lessons about vegetables, morning announcements with "fun" food facts, puzzles about broccoli, color-coded food groups, relay teams competing over how much salad bar produce the kids can pile on their plate, "one hour lectures" about good food choices, learning to read ingredient lists and drilling it into their little skulls over and over that processed is bad and fresh is good, until four year olds are catatonically walking around spouting off about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup and boycotting Monsanto products.
Here's a tip for all those people: Kids like to cook, nearly every single one of them. They come out of the womb curious about pots and pans and things that sizzle and boil. You don't have to lecture them, drill them on it, bludgeon them with good food propaganda, or create a script about carrots to get them to eat them. Just let them cook. Bring a pot to school, put it on a hot plate and let them make something.
Let them have fun, be themselves, feel the freedom of holding a real knife and the success of pushing that knife through a hard carrot for the first time, by themselves, without a neurotic adult hovering over them ready to whisk them off to first aid. Let them watch raw meat turn to cooked meat, see the butter turn from solid to liquid in the pan. Let them see the wisps of smoke coming off the garlic and onions, and smell the cumin, and make something with it...
And see if they won't taste it. They'll likely taste it, and because everybody wants a taste, it will become cool to taste. They will learn that from each other. And the stragglers, the finicky ones, might give it a try, too. Innately, they want to do, touch, see, experience almost everything. No one wants to be left out of the fun.
Just let cooking with kids and feeding kids be that relaxed. Let it be hit and miss. Sometimes great, sometimes terrible. Let it be without a script, without a predictably boring outcome, without a lesson, a lecture or a test, without adults trying to mangle it up with their world views and their politically-correct foodism. Let it be what it is. Please.
Because if you don't, you will bludgeon the joy right out of something that they innately love to do. And then, they'll really hate whole foods.