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“Every kid…deserves to learn the basics about food—where it comes from, how to cook it and how it affects their bodies. These life skills are as important as reading and writing, but they’ve been lost over the past few generations. We need to bring them back and bring up our kids to be streetwise about food.”
The other day I had an interaction that made me think of this quote by Jamie Oliver. I had picked up my friend’s kids—a 10-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy—from school and brought them to my place to feed them dinner while their mom was out of town. The kids were sitting at the counter playing with their phones as I cut a cauliflower into florets for the meal. After several minutes of silence, the 10-year-old looked up from her phone and studied my cutting board. “Is that white broccoli?” she asked innocently. I was shocked that the kids had never seen a cauliflower.
As an avid home cook, I sometimes worry about the next generation when it comes to food and cooking. Not only do many kids lack cooking skills or knowledge, they don’t even know the names of common fruits and vegetables, or have any idea where they come from. This has a negative impact on their health, their sense of responsibility, and their connection to nature. Luckily, summer camps offering culinary arts activities and specialties are popping up all over North America to help set kids up for success in the kitchen, and in turn, success in life.
We all want our kids to be healthy, but few of us are aware that the best thing we can do for their health is make sure they learn how to cook. As food writer Michael Pollan says, “The cook in the kitchen preparing a meal…has a great many things to worry about, but ‘health’ is simply not one of them because it’s a given.”
When kids have the skills to make a quick snack or a meal for themselves from scratch they automatically begin to eat healthier, more wholesome foods and fewer packaged, processed foods. The best part (and this is where the deceptive parent in me comes out), is that they likely won’t even realize it. When it comes to cooking, fun and creativity are the focus—especially in a summer camp setting where kids will be tasting and learning along with their peers.
At Kennolyn, for example, all of our campers get to prepare a meal of their own during their time at camp—beef stew over an open fire. This is such an incredible experience for kids because it adds a fun, adventurous element into cooking, and because the meal itself is wholesome and healthy. In our indoor and outdoor cooking class activities we see firsthand that when kids make their own healthy food and have fun doing it, they eat it too.
Learning to cook also helps kids develop a healthy sense of responsibility. Handling sharp knives, setting up a workstation, staying organized, washing their hands, and cleaning up after themselves are just a few of the responsibilities that kids inevitably learn. The best part is that they learn these things while they’re having fun. Simple chores in the kitchen are so intertwined with the process that they become second nature, rather than a drag. In Kennolyn’s culinary arts 2-week specialty program, for instance, each cook is responsible for their own set of equipment and their own cooking station, and are taught how to work cleanly and safely in our culinary arts studio. It’s amazing to see how responsible kids are with handling their knives and washing up all of their dishes.
In addition to teaching kids how to be responsible for their workspace and equipment, cooking also teaches kids how to be responsible for feeding themselves. When kids know how to prepare food for themselves, they are no longer reliant on others (like their parents) to provide them with nourishment. So often our kids eat when we say it’s mealtime or snack time, instead of when they are truly hungry, but being able to prepare their own food also causes them to become more in tune with their own internal hunger cues. Having the ability to prepare a snack when they feel like one allows kids to truly learn to take ownership of their body and its needs.
In addition to the personal responsibility that cooking encourages, kids learn a kind of responsibility that extends to the world at large—respect for the planet. So many kids are used to seeing food magically appear in front of them without having a clue about the amount of hard work that went into producing it or how it got there in the first place. Once kids begin to discover where food comes from and how it grows, they begin to develop a newfound appreciation for the earth and how much it provides for us.
At Kennolyn, kids enrolled in our culinary arts specialty program get to gather and cook with ingredients from our very own garden. They also have the chance to go on a tour of an organic farm where they learn about how healthy, sustainable food is grown. There’s an incredible sense of awe and wonder when kids pull carrots out of soil for the first time and taste what fresh, homegrown food is like. In this sense, food is the path through which kids can connect with nature on a deep level.
Culinary arts classes at camp have a wealth of positive lessons to offer kids. Just by learning to cook, kids will develop healthier eating habits, learn a deeper sense of responsibility, and reconnect with nature and respect for the planet. Most importantly though, they will have fun learning, tasting, and creating new things with their summer camp friends. And who knows, you may even find yourself learning a thing or two from your little ones when they come home. But that’s the best thing about cooking—it’s a lifelong education.
If you’re interested in giving your children a taste of culinary arts education at summer camp this year, check out Kennolyn Camps. Culinary arts programs are available for campers in 4th grade and above, with a variety of other options for kids of all ages. With a variety of fun activities to choose from, you are sure to find what best suits your kids’ tastes.
Photo credit: Flickr user _nezemnaya_