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Oregon Family Magazine

Home Cooking Revived

05/21/2012 21:28 ● By Anonymous
“Kids love to do what their parents do, and it's (almost) always a good idea to let them help when they want to. Being included builds confidence, self-esteem, and teaches teamwork, which also fosters strong family values,” says Susana DeFazio, a Walton parent.

Cooking is a natural activity of supporting life and a daily reminder of caring for your body and your family – it is also a worldly tradition of nourishing one another; a tradition worth passing on!

LIFE SKILLS IN THE KITCHEN When families value cooking traditions, parents teach their children food wisdom from their grandparents. In this setting, significant food skills are passed on to the children. Robin Bernardi, a youth director, says it best….“Cooking is a basic skill for living. If kids get excited about it at an early age it will serve them in practical and positive ways for the rest of their lives. What could be better than that?”

REAL FOODS TASTE BETTER Cooks all over the world visit farmers markets to find fresh ingredients and create delicious meals. Here’s the connection for kids: take your child to the farmers market, and choose five ingredients to make a pizza, or an omelet that day. This simple act shows children the full circle of buying fresh food from farmers and preparing meals at home.

“The food also taste much better. If taught how to cook from scratch at an early age, children will likely continue the practice into adulthood and continue to make their purchases locally,” says Mary Wood, a Eugene homesteading parent and UO professor.

STUDENT ADVOCATES In recent years, local parents have worked with our school district to improve food education. Examples include the School Garden Project, where students plant gardens next to the classroom, or the Farm to School program, where kids are bused to visit local farms. Another is Eugene Coalition for Better School Food, which helps to increase the amount of local foods on school lunch menus.

Kids themselves can strengthen this effort, especially when they garden, cook, and eat their favorite foods grown locally. This activity taps into the local food markets so the kids’ influence will be felt in their community. It helps reduce food transportation costs and lowers our carbon footprint. A 12-year-old food activist, Haile Thomas, says, “We all know kids have an important voice; they have great ideas, they can help adults make a positive change in their world (emphasis added). To do so, they need healthy lunch programs, physical activities, and proper nutritional education.”

KNOW YOUR FARMER Farmers appreciate parents who bring their kids to buy fresh produce as potential community supported agriculture/CSA customers.

In this country, we’ve had a tradition of feeding ourselves by way of small-scale family farms… and the children were engaged. As Mary Wood says, “Kids seem to have much more interest in local foods as opposed to food purchased at a grocery store. When they meet the farmer and purchase the ingredients themselves, they take pride in the meal and understand its components better.”

HOME COOKING In my generation, the 50’s, we saw a lot of fresh ingredients in our kitchens. Today, many fresh ingredients have been reduced to a preserved powder in a box or bottle.

As a child growing up in a Hispanic home, I remember my mother cooking for four children, and my father of course. My father showed deep appreciation for Mom’s cooking. I was alert to how Dad enjoyed his meals, and how it made him feel; I wanted that energy also. In this kitchen setting, I learned the satisfaction of real home cooking and usually ate everything I was served; except for those peas you’d usually find lingering under my plate.

Another mom, Leslie Scott, recognized in her children “…the joy of discovering fresh food and how to create meals that make them feel good and give them energy.” This speaks directly to my experience of Mom’s home cooking.

KITCHEN CONVERSATION If you are raising children, you are most likely the most significant person in their lives when it comes to teaching them about their heritage. Creating ethnic dishes together can help children learn about their own personal culture, taking pride in their roots and appreciating other nationalities. A regular kitchen practice like this gives families opportunities to discuss diversity in our community and model acceptance.

Here’s a fun idea: Set a date on your calendar - on this day you will reveal to your children how many generations it took to pass on the family lasagna recipe - and then serve it to them that night. Once they bite into your lasagna, and hear the history, stronger neural connections in the brain link memory taste and the story forever!

The story continues when this meal is prepared for a wedding reception (for example), where friends and family will taste your family lasagna recipe. Sonja Burrows, parent and UO professor, says, “Cooking and eating food are both ceremonial and practical acts. Having kids involved in the preparation process keeps them aware of the roles food can play in their family life.”

MOVING TOWARD HOME-COOKED MEALS For some families, moving towards home cooked meals will require a change in perception of processed foods to inspire a shift to healthier meals cooked at home.

Here we make a comparison with the cultural perception of smoking tobacco to moving away from processed foods.

“Over the past decade many adults have come to view cigarettes differently – not as sexy and glamorous, but as repulsive and deadly,” states author Dr. David Kessler in his book, The End of Overeating, p. 197. When we can see “processed foods” as actually unhealthy, this might prompt us to make a change. However, looking for ways to reduce the use of processed foods, families will require basic cooking skill – “this empowers kids to take responsibility for their own health,” says Steve Goldman, a local community coordinator and comedian.

HELPING THE TRANSITION There is continuing kitchen education available to enhance your family’s cooking knowledge. Today, city parks and community centers, kitchen retail outlets, and small cooking schools offer programs and hands-on cooking lessons to explore kitchen practices. Another interesting resource is Recipe Development classes, where you can compare your family recipes to classic ones. These cooking programs offer ideas to the seasoned cook, or can start you off in your home cooking adventures.

In my work with children, I have noticed they are fascinated with the ways foods are prepared and cooked. One approach to introducing kids to meal preparation is through “technique”. “Rather than starting with recipes they can't relate to…… teach them the METHODS of cooking, like frying, steaming, braising, etc.” suggests Leslie Scott, Managing Partner, Oregon Truffle Festival. The goal is to help families expand their cooking practices at home. Doing a search on for cooking classes, Eugene, Oregon will uncover some great local resources.

IT’S SPRING! We live in a rich agricultural valley and now is the perfect time to start cooking at home. With spring harvest, Lane County farmers begin to gather and many bring their goods to local farmers markets to sell.

Our farmers are the great stewards of this land, and we can support their efforts by purchasing their abundant produce and products at the market… eggs, cheeses, meats and poultry, pickles, vegetables, fruits, berries, juices, nuts, honey and more. Together we can embrace the wholesomeness of fresh, local foods with our children.

Let’s give our kids the tools they need to know and prepare healthy foods. “The more skills we teach our children, the smarter they will become and the more they can contribute to our society.” says Kaylynn Olney, 4j Nutrition Services Manager.

John Duran completed his culinary apprenticeship in San Francisco, and earned a degree in Nutrition and Food Systems Mgmt. at OSU. Chef/Owner of EveryOne Cooks in Eugene OR, John teaches basic kitchen skills to primary and middle school children in a hands-on workshop program. Ph: 650-740-1355