IFNH and ChopChop Magazine Host Former White House Chef in Cooking Demo for Kids
Give a kid a fishstick and he will eat for a day. Teach a kid how to cook and he will go home and show his parents. It is no secret that wrapped in the intricate problem of the rise in childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases, is the profile of food eaten at home. The bygone era of a household with a stay at home parent that prepared meals from scratch, transformed into busy working caregivers who rely on processed convenience and/or fast food to fill hungry bellies. Unfortunately, food on the run often contains more empty calories than nourishment, and the consequences of poor nutrition are reflected in the increasing rates of chronic disease.
The New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), ChopChop Magazine and former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, now the Director of the ChopChop Cooking Lab, are out to change that dynamic. With this common goal, IFNH and ChopChop in 2014 became partners in working to create healthy lifestyles at an early age, and in December, sponsored their first joint venture, hosting Yosses, a Rutgers alumnus (GSNB’78), for a hands-on evening for children and families teaching children about food and cooking, with a blend of science and fun. “Kids: Cooking, Learning and Eating” was held in Trayes Hall at the Douglass Campus Center.
Sally Sampson is founder and president of ChopChop Kids, an innovative non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and teach children to cook real food with their families. ChopChop Magazine is filled with nutritious, great tasting, ethnically diverse, and inexpensive recipes. It also features fun food facts, games and puzzles, and interviews with healthy heroes ranging from kid chefs to professional athletes to celebrated food advocates. Sampson reflected on the magazine’s mission and the impetus behind the event. “We have a generation of non-cooks raising another generation of non-cooks. Our approach is to excite the kid so that they will go home and say, ‘let’s try this’. And if your kids learn to cook, one benefit is that they’ll make you dinner.”
IFNH Director Peter Gillies commented on the partnership. “ChopChop’s mission to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families and our mission to make New Jersey the healthy state and a model for the nation converge in our common goal of helping children lead healthier lives. Teaching children to cook, eat healthy foods, and get physically active helps promote what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation calls a ‘Culture of Health’ in America.”
The partnership coincides with the launch the IFNH Center for Childhood Nutrition Education and Research, directed by Associate Professor Daniel Hoffman, which will serve as a state-wide resource where children and family, students and teachers and innovative members of the community will partner with nutrition scientists to explore healthy habits at the interface of proper nutrition, growth, healthy diets and playful exercise.
Lettuce Begin Cooking
Organizing a gaggle of kids at several food prep stations is a tall order, so on-hand to assist Yosses were IFNH Nutrition Ambassadors, Nutritional Sciences majors who demonstrate professionalism and dedication to the fields of food, nutrition, and health. Before commencing, Yosses held a briefing with the Nutrition Ambassadors, familiarizing them with the menu and the fundamentals of the various food prep stations where the kids would be working. Yosses, Sampson and Rutgers faculty were then interviewed by a member of the press, who also happened to be one of the child participants. East Brunswick middle schooler Joshua Yi, a member of the News Kids Press Corps, covered the event for the national paper Scholastic News Online.
Kids: Cooking, Learning and Eating
Yosses preceded the hands-on cooking portion with a lecture, slideshow and demonstration to the audience of children and family members seated at formal dining tables where they could dine on the healthy fixings offered at the event. Yosses, who left his position at the White House in June of 2014 to relocate to the New York area and work on promoting delicious food as healthy food and advocating food literacy from the bottom up, enthusiastically introduced the kids to the science behind cooking. As a pastry chef, Yosses offered some physics and chemistry behind the sweets: Sugar cooked to a high temperature looks like glass. The process of crystallization takes place when chocolate hardens after being heated and then cooled. Surface tension forms a perfect sphere in zero gravity. For dramatic effect, Yosses produced nucleation by adding yeast to hydrogen peroxide, resulting in a flowing, frothy foam.
Yosses extended the concept of healthy food to gardening, and spoke about his involvement with First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House Garden. While it seems that the pastry chef would not be a good fit in the healthy eating initiative at the Obama White House, Yosses explained how he worked with the First Lady to make desserts more healthy – adjusting portion size, basing them on healthy ingredients like fruits, and acknowledging wholesome desserts in the right place can be a part of healthy eating.
For the hands-on cooking participation, several children gathered around each of the various food prep stations, where they were put to work by Yosses and the Nutrition Ambassadors, cutting, chopping, peeling and mashing. A Mexican-themed meal emerged as each station produced a portion of the meal: quesadillas with cheese, corn, black beans wrapped in blue tortillas; guacamole; and salsa verde.
Endeavors engaging children in food preparation often result in their increased willingness to consume the food they helped prepare. In addition to their own creations from Yosses’ prep stations, a buffet of healthy food was served, created by Rutgers Dining Services, using the actual kid-friendly, tasty recipes appearing in ChopChop.
One group of children attending the event had already begun planning their culinary follow-up activities while perusing the copies of ChopChop provided at the tables. Accompanied by SNAP-ED Community Assistant for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County Ebony Braswell, the 4-H Club members selected a recipe for a chicken dish to prepare at their next 4-H meeting. ChopChop also publishes “dispatches from our loyal readers”, and the 4-Hers planned to submit their feedback on the event.
Will one kid learning to cook change family food dynamics? Yosses left the participants with this message, “As you learn to cook, we ask that you share that with your friends.” Yosses further urged them to be leaders – “It means listening to what people need and seeing what they need and what you have to do to help them get there.”