Baby steps: on cooking with kids and being a Food Revolutionary

Kids eating veggies on
Kids eating their veggies at a Food Revolution Toronto community cooking class

Trust the Food Revolution community to ask its Ambassadors a thought-provoking question as the year draws to a close…  For December‘s Food Revolution Ambassador Monthly Challenges one of our challenges was:

Share your greatest Food Revolution moment from 2014. Whether conquering a certain recipe, getting your picky eaters to try new foods, or joining FRD2014 we want to know your best food revolutionary moments from this year – send us your quotes, images, achievements and favourite photos.

That’s a BIG ask for anyone, to choose ONE moment from an entire year and I found it particularly challenging, simply because I’m teaching kids to cook twice a week (have been for the past 4+ years with my Petits Chefs and, more recently, with my Cooking Basics boys) so there are a LOT of “Food Revolution” moments in my life.. This question really made me think long and hard about what a “great Food Revolution moment” really is.

Sure, I could have chosen actual Food Revolution Day. The day I taught over 60 people (in two separate classes) to cook Jamie Oliver’s Rainbow Wraps (and other #realfood goodies). Or I could have chosen the two Food Revolution-themed classes with my regular cooking club boys, those were a huge success too.

I could even have chosen to talk about the time I met Jamie Oliver.

But thinking about “greatness” and how it’s achieved always makes me go back to thinking about a lot of people working to make “small changes, often”. To grassroots initiatives.  Which is, for me, the whole basis of the Food Revolution Ambassador programme.  To date, there are over 1300 voluntary Ambassadors, all over the world – people who are passionate about making changes to the way people eat, teaching them to cook and ultimately, trying to make the world a better place.  And how exactly are they doing that? Well, it’s a little different for everyone but every effort helps the cause.  And at the end of the day, while Food Revolution Day itself is definitely a focus, what I am seeing through the Ambassadors’ work is how the “small changes, often” is a great way to effect long-term change. I mean, it’s  all very well for people to come together for one day of the year but these Ambassadors are out there in their communities every day, working hard to spread the message about the importance of food education.  And making it “do-able” for everyone.

This philosophy is reflected in Jennifer Tyler Lee’s “52 New Foods” challenge which I’m thrilled to be a part of (watch this space in the new year!).  Lee, the creator of Crunch a Color, was a mum like many others who struggled to get her kids to eat healthy meals. The answer, she discovered, was turning it into a game.  “We’ll try one new food each week,” she told her kids. “You pick!” She called it The 52 New Foods Challenge.  This idea of just trying ONE new thing a week is an approachable change that even busy parents can incorporate into their routines.  By making things do-able, this is the type of change that is likely to stick.

Kids eating Jamie Oliver's chicken fingers on
Kids eating Jamie Oliver’s chicken fingers (that they made themselves!) at a Food Revolution Toronto community cooking class

Jamie says, “Knowing how to cook fresh food from scratch is an essential life skill – once you know that, you’re set up for life.”  So, is it really as simply as teaching kids to cook? Maybe…  At the heart of what Jamie is doing, three things are key – keeping it real in the kitchen (by cooking and eating real food and also by understanding that not everything will turn out perfectly – welcome to real life!), having fun and getting excited about food. It’s what I try to do every Monday and Wednesday after school with my boys’ cooking clubs and even though it sometimes feels like I am not having much effect, I know I’m getting there. Regularly, I hear stories from the boys about what they are cooking at home, I am always getting emails from parents telling me how their sons have inspired them to get in the kitchen and have a go as well and receiving photos of what the boys have made.  This year at Thanksgiving, I received a photo of one of the boy’s pumpkin pies with this note from him mum:

Before we met you, we would have bought a pie. Those days are long gone.

Small changes, every day.  This. This is what makes it all worthwhile.

Kids drinking super smoothies on
Kids drinking Jamie Oliver’s super smoothies at a Food Revolution Toronto community cooking class

To that effect – trying to keep the momentum going, in between Food Revolution Days through a series of smaller activities where we can spread the word about the “Revolution”, the Toronto Food Revolution Ambassadors have been working hard to come up with ways of getting the community involved in food education activities throughout the year.  We were fortunate enough to have leftover swag and funds from Sobeys and Harper Collins Canada (who sponsored many of our Food Revolution Day activities in 2014) which we decided to put to good use by offering two community (i.e. free!) cooking classes, the first of which was held a couple of weeks ago.

Kids eating Jamie Oliver granola and drinking super smoothies on
Kids eating Jamie Oliver granola and drinking super smoothies at a Food Revolution Toronto community cooking class

Was it a big event with hundreds of people, TV cameras and celebrities? No, on the contrary. A small groups of parents and their kids gathered in the beautiful Sobeys’ test kitchen (generously donated) and Ambassadors Carol and Monika led them through four Jamie Oliver recipes – yoghurt dip for vegetables, chicken fingers, granola and super smoothies. Simple, do-able recipes that would hopefully inspire the participants to cook them on their own, after the class.

This was kid-friendly food (to make and eat!) at its best that they absolutely loved. Their parents loved the simplicity of the recipes. These kids were sad when the class ended. The parents said they were definitely inspired to cook with their kids at home. Small changes, often. This is what the Food Revolution looks like every day…  Susan (an Ambassador who attended with her kids) wrote a post, as did Linda (Ambassador who helped out at the class). You can see my photos from the event here.

On the heels of the success of this class, we’re organising a second, for the new year. Stay tuned… Slowly, we’re spreading the word…

Coincidentally, Sobeys invited me to host a recent #BetterFoodForAll Twitter chat about cooking with kids which just happened to take place the week after this class.  As an educator, teaching kids about food is some of the most important work I do, so I was curious to hear how chat participants (i.e. people “on the ground”) were working to get their kids in the kitchen.  It was a fast-paced chat that was a little overwhelming (simply because of the speed it was moving!) at times but my biggest takeaway was the sheer number of people out there working hard to preserve family traditions and pass on cooking skills to their kids. In this time of giving, I can’t think of a better gift to the next generation than that.  You can read my recap of the chat over on the #BetterFoodForAll blog (note, link no longer valid).

So, as the year closes out, what are my Food Revolution goals for 2015? More of the same. Making small changes, regularly. Teaching others that change doesn’t have to be hard. And that change is do-able.  After all, the Food Revolution is all about the journey, not the destination.

3 thoughts on “Baby steps: on cooking with kids and being a Food Revolutionary”

  1. Good for you, Mardi…I suspect that Les Petits Chefs is greater than the sum of its parts. Fantastic effort over four years.


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