Eight-year-old Nathan Penner didn’t hesitate before answering a question that would stump many his age.
“Milk comes from cows, everybody knows that,” he said while waiting to test some of the recipes he helped make during the third annual Super Chef Academy in Winnipeg March 16.
Well, not everybody. His teacher, Elizabeth Walker, says kids like Nathan are a rarity these days. All too often, these questions about where food comes from can be met with dubious answers.
“Where does milk come from? ‘Safeway.’ Where do eggs come from? ‘Safeway’ or ‘the fridge,’” said Walker. “So kids do need to learn where milk comes from, and how it’s processed, what cows need to give us healthy milk.”
That’s why she jumped at the opportunity to sign her class from West St. Paul School up for the academy, which is hosted by Nüton — a team of registered dietitians from Dairy Farmers of Manitoba. They provide nutrition education, resources and training for Manitoba educators.
Walker said that many of her students — despite their young age — are already part of a fast-paced lifestyle that doesn’t take time to slow down and make home-cooked meals, or pack nutritious lunches.
“I started the school year watching what they brought for snack and what they brought for lunch… and a lot of kids already come with those busy lifestyles, and everything is fast and prepared, and prepacked,” she said. “They are not going shopping and really thinking about good food choices.”
Pat Bugera Krawchuk has heard it all before.
“For many of them, it’s a new experience,” said the nutrition programs manager for Dairy Farmers of Manitoba. “Some of them do have the opportunity to be in the kitchen with their parents, and some do help family do some food preparation, but most of the time we find this is their first exposure to a kitchen. So while it might have seemed intimidating, as soon as they get involved, they are engaged from start to finish.”
This year, nearly 200 students from nine schools participated in the week-long academy, where they made nutritious meals from scratch, including lentil banana raisin muffins, mini falafel burgers and tzatziki sauce.
As a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, shamrock shakes were also on the menu.
“I made mini Mexican pizzas and avocado dip. I think they’re gonna taste great,” said Penner, who added he wants to teach his family the recipe as well — something participants are encouraged to do.
Kids are given copies of the recipes they’ve tried, as well as a certificate they can take home with them.
“One of the goals of Super Chef Academy is to help kids understand and become more familiar with foods they might not know, and learn how it grows, where it grows, and also how to put unfamiliar foods with familiar flavours… how to blend those things together, and really to just have the opportunity to try new things,” said Bugera Krawchuk.
Kids are also more likely to try new foods if they have helped prepare them, she added.
As for when is the right time to get kids cooking, the nutrition manager said there is really no such thing as starting too early.
“Honestly, I think as soon as kids are able to help out in any kind of way they can start,” she said. “It’s just a matter of finding age-appropriate skills and tasks that they can do.
“As early as toddlerhood, it’s easy to get them to help with simple things, even like setting the table, washing fruits or vegetables and then the older they get the more skills you can add to their repertoire.”
Walker would like to see even more students have access to the type of programming the academy provides.
“Really, I think every grade should learn how to cook, they should learn how to grow a garden and they should learn how to look at the stores and shop for healthy choices,” she said. “I believe it’s lacking for most students.”