My mother never taught me to cook. This is not in any way a criticism—mom was a good efficient cook and there was no need for me to meddle in the kitchen. Besides, I had plenty of other chores to keep me busy on the farm.
As a youngster, I joined a 4-H cooking class taught by Mrs. Barnett in her home. I remember learning to make a lovely fruit cup. I have another memory of dropping a pound of soft butter on her kitchen floor. I suppose we did not make cookies that day. In high school, we went by bus once a week to a home economics class in the next town. I remember making breaded veal cutlets, which I am quite sure I have not made since. In university, I lived with my grandmother who was an excellent cook. In short, I had no need to learn to cook because healthy homemade meals were provided throughout my youth.
Some kids are not so lucky. For reasons of a busy or fractured home life, they don’t have the benefit of consistent nutritious meals, while in some families it is just the opposite—the child is the cook, preparing meals for younger siblings. In these circumstances, I think it would be a great benefit to learn to cook a few simple and nutritious dishes from scratch. And that is exactly what Kids Kitchen is designed to do. In Kids Kitchen, Grade 4 and 5 students in several elementary schools in Saskatoon learn to cook hearty simple recipes and, along with the fun of mucking about in the kitchen, they learn the basics of nutrition and good food choices. So, when the teacher says they are going to make fruit smoothies “just like you get in the mall” the kids are eager to try it themselves. And when they hear that it’s just as quick to make pizza as to order it delivered, they’re at the counter ready to chop vegetables and grate cheese. If truth be told, their fruit smoothies are actually better than those in the mall because their recipe calls for a bit of Saskatchewan ground flax. When possible, their teacher Gaylene Buchko uses Saskatchewan-made ingredients so these city youngsters get a better appreciation for the foods that are produced close to home.
One Friday afternoon, with scrubbed hands and a hairnet, I joined Kids Kitchen at St. Goretti Community School to make smoothies, pizza and minestrone soup with the kids. I asked them if they cook at home. Wyatt says he cooks macaroni. Jazzzlyn says “only cereal” while Kelly has cooked turkey and mashed potatoes, adding that she burned the turkey once. Shaneen announces that fresh mushrooms are “icky” but also admits that “sometimes I don’t like the look of something, then I try it and I like it.” A good lesson to learn as a kid, and I bet she liked the pizza, too.
Kids Kitchen is a weekly program funded by the Catholic school foundation and CHEP Good Food Inc. with the goal of instilling some basic knowledge of kitchen skills and nutrition when the kids are young. At the end of each class, students take their creations home to share with their families, and at the end of the term, they get a homemade cookbook with all the recipes. “If they learn it here when they’re young, hopefully they’ll make better choices as adults,” says Gaylene. “A few years from now they’ll find that little cookbook and they’ll start cooking again.”