Picture this: smashed bananas smearing giggling grins. Chubby hands rattling measuring spoons with gleeful vigor. Banana pudding stirred with such force, toddler shoes continuously fly off in sync. Typical chaotic, careworn attempts at producing meals in households with young children? Not exactly. This is a learning experience. We’re not being tongue in cheek. This is merely a window of wonder, a limited snapshot of Toddler and Me cooking class, held for teen parents with their young ones this past September and offered by SVVSD Nutrition Services in conjunction with Cooking Matters.
Mealtimes with young children can be stressful, particularly after a long or frustrating day. They are also golden opportunities, to bond, converse, share, and set the stage for healthy eating habits that will reap a lifetime of benefits. Studies increasingly corroborate, getting kids involved in the kitchen can go a long way in positively influencing their food choices and encourage long-lasting healthy habits. Best part? It’s never too early–or too late–to start.
Of course, we all know many a great idea that inspire us in theory take a fair amount of thought, planning, and skill to put into practice, at least at first. Incorporating children into food prep can be awfully daunting, from a safety to a management point of view, let alone getting organized with recipes, ingredients, and timing. Here’s where Toddler and Me cooking comes in, offering reassurance and the basic ingredients for success, literally.
Two years ago SVVSD Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen and her team began programming for teen parents as part of a grant from Chef Ann Foundation. During this time, Allen developed a partnership with Cooking Matters, a nonprofit whose mission is to combat food insecurity by providing education on eating and preparing healthy meals on a budget. “Seeing the whole program evolve was really exciting,” Allen says. “It was really inspiring to think of all the ways we could explore the potential of this partnership, within and outside of the grant.” One of those possibilities was a healthy cooking class geared for parents at Rocky Mountain Elementary, held last spring. This year, Toddler and Me was piloted as part of Olde Columbine’s Teen Parenting Program.
The Teen Parenting Program (TPP) has been a part of SVVSD for over 20 years. The TPP is a career and technical education program that is designed to 1) teach young parents the skills necessary to successfully parent a child and 2) to provide an on-site nursery so that parents can visit and feed their young child through the school day. At the inaugural Toddler and Me class, which Allen and her team hope to expand for greater reach, students spent a first hour learning about when to introduce foods to their children, how to create healthy food environments; the second half of the class was devoted to parents making two recipes with their children (mostly babies, and all under 5) working alongside.
“It was incredible,” says SVVSD Nutrition Services Wellness Coordinator Sarah Harter. “Parents were really struck with the idea that even kids as little as nine months can help in the kitchen. Moms and dads were awestruck.They were excited to go home and cook.” Supporting the enthusiasm, participating parents received a booster or high chair, a reusable bib, a toddler-sized MyPlate bowl, and additional, valuable take home resources.
At the class, students made two quick and healthy recipes: a quick banana yogurt pudding and a bean salad. “Most of the children were too small to actually eat the food, still bottle-fed,” Harter says, “but it didn’t matter. The one older child ate everything up, with gusto. The others were still engaged, and joyful. It was really amazing.”