For the longest time, I've been aching to get back into the kitchen with kids, teaching them about food and cooking. This really is my happy place; above all else that I do, it's what I love most. Since we moved from the Sunshine Coast to Chilliwack, it was the one part of my job that I missed most.
Yesterday was day one of diving back in the kitchen again with a group of elementary school students. This time, it's more challenging; I have a group of students who all have their own needs and challenges, so presenting food and cooking in a way they understand is going to be interesting. We didn't cook yesterday, instead we talked about the "Rules of the Kitchen", how things were going to work, what we were going to make, and then I brought some oranges for them to taste.
They weren't just any oranges. They were cara cara oranges, a delightful variety that's in season between December and April, and one of my very favourite kind of orange. Not only are they super sweet, but they are gorgeous. I wanted to see what the kids knew-where the oranges might come from, how they grow, the different parts such as the peel, pith, flesh... would they figure this out?
Tasting things is a huge part of how I teach kids to cook. At home, most kids come from the "Just one bite" or "finish your plate" camps. They are used to food being associated with something emotional-mostly pleasing adults but in my class, I tell them I'm not the food police. I won't make them eat ANYTHING. Or try anything. They may look at, smell, lick, touch, and even eat something if they wish but there will be no pressure from anyone at any time.The point is to just make them aware of different kinds of food, and one day when they are ready, they may try it.
"YOU are in charge of your body," I tell them. "YOU are the one who decides if you want to taste. If you don't, that's okay. I'm not going to make you or feel sad if you don't."
The oranges were a surprise. At first, the kids seemed disappointed and even a bit upset that I bought "just" fruit and not some fantastic packaged item.
"Just oranges? Really?"
"I WANT SOMETHING SWEET!"
"I HATE oranges"
I'm a little evil. There are NO sweet baked goods on our menu until the very last day in June, when I plan to have them make homemade ice cream. Even then, it will be topped with fruit. They don't know this, and I have no plans to tell them.
I smiled and set the oranges on the table, said it was fine if they didn't want any, and kept going. We talked about the oranges, and with fat, colorful markers I began drawing a mind map on a huge piece of paper. The adults helping had a few orange slices. Another teacher walked in and commented that those kind of oranges were her favorite. Finally, one of the kids tried one..and then another, and before you knew it, they were nibbling on the sweet fruit, leaving a pile of half moon peels behind on paper towels in front of them.
Then, we got to the topic of citrus fruit and I brought out a Meyer lemon. I sliced it in half, and the kids got to smell and touch it.
"Can we taste the lemon?"
I almost fell over. Lemon? The oranges were suspect but they wanted LEMON? I shaved off thin slices, saying it was okay if they didn't want it after they tasted, that it would be sour. I explained that the peel is very good, and how chefs use it in muffins and other treats.
Down went the slices of lemon and soon they were eying the lime I brought as well. Gone were the pleas of having a cookie or piece of chocolate, they were intensely focused on the fruit and how interesting it was. This was a completely different turn of events-I had expected they may eat the oranges, but never for a minute thought they'd want to try the lemon and lime, too!
Later I ran into one of the kids and asked her,
"Are you a sweet orange or a sour lemon today?"
She grinned at me happily.
"I'm a sweet orange!" (Note to self: I think I may need to bring Meyer lemons in again for the kids to cook with because they obviously LOVED them)
Next up? We're making pancakes that are full of oatmeal and whole wheat flour, topped with a strawberry compote instead of syrup. They are used to only having syrup. Let's see how THAT goes over!