Getting kids to eat new foods can often take some negotiating or even slight trickery. But this summer one Whole Foods Market in New York City is hosting a series of day camps for children and trying a different tack: The classes will introduce participants to the specialties of each of the city’s boroughs.
In recent months, more attention and regulation has gone into food marketing geared to children. Earlier this year, the Walt Disney Co. announced its new standards for food advertising on its television channels. Using governmental guidelines for nutrition, the company has outlined which foods will and won’t make the cut. Not surprisingly, many prepackaged foods will no longer be seen. Last month, the Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative released a statement saying that the amount of sugar in cereal marketed to children has decreased since 2010. And the changes are still progressing in advance of the guidelines that will go into effect in 2013.
Though New York may have the benefit of being one of the most diverse cities in the country, the concept can easily be applied to stores looking to expand their local focus. In the case of Kids Cook NYC, for example, on Queens day, the kids will make mango and mint lassis with yogurt, and on Staten Island Day, there will be vegetable-filled Stromboli. Hidden within each recipe is a dash of civic pride, according to Min Liao, Bowery Culinary Center director.
“We have conversations about what it means to be a neighborhood,” she said. “By the end, everyone gets that New York City pride.” That pride is symbolized with a diploma and a packet of recipes that includes the history of each dish and how it relates to the neighborhood.
Like many supermarket cooking programs, the Bowery Culinary Center, located on the second floor of the Bowery Whole Foods Market, also offers adult classes with similar themes. The one-night classes focus on a specific region (such as Korean or Milanese) or cooking technique (including vegan-focused classes).
For the last few summers, the Bowery Culinary has partnered with The Creative Kitchen to run Kids Cook NYC, which is divided by age group. The New York theme wasn’t used in the first years, but turning the focus on neighborhoods has been extremely popular. Activities are age appropriate and involve all the senses. Not only how a food tastes but also its color, how it feels, and how cooking can change an ingredient.
One of the most popular activities from previous years, Liao said, was having the 5- to 7-year-olds make Russian dumplings. The meat-and-vegetable filling is prepared in advance, but the kids get to dive into the dough, filling and pinching them shut. Getting the kids involved means they are more likely to try new foods.
Getting kids cooking early will also help them learn and be curious about what’s in their foods and get those notoriously picky eaters to maybe just give that odd-looking food a try — especially if they helped make it.