By Caroline Franks
Eight-year-old Juliet and seven-year-old Malichi are learning to make mini meatloaves in their Friends with Food class at The Bethany Hope Centre. Trinity is learning to make a tasty sauce. They along with three other children aged seven to 12 on Wednesday evenings learn to cook simple healthy meals.
The pilot project, part of the Bethany Hope Centre’s Nourish program, began in the spring of 2018 and is generously supported by the TELUS Ottawa Community Grants.
Each week the program begins with a discussion on various themes such as protein and meat alternatives, grains, vegetables, or milk products where they learn something new about nutrition.
“We start with an education component,” said Rachel Arnold, Infant and Child Development Worker at The Bethany Hope Centre. “We ask them what they know about the food group or what’s in the meal they are preparing.”
The children each have their own apron to decorate and a book filled with recipes they learn during the course.
Meals made during the sessions include homemade macaroni and cheese with pumpkin, mousse with avocado, energy bars, and muffins made with zucchini.
“The children learn skills like chopping vegetables, shredding cheese, measuring ingredients, and using the stove and oven safely. Depending on their age, we give them child friendly tools to use until they are confident enough to use real tools,” said Rachel.
“We set the table for dinner before we eat. That’s a big part of the program,” said Rachel. “We learn about the benefits of eating together. While we eat, we also talk about the cooking experience, what they enjoyed and what they didn’t.”
The program is also about teaching children where their food comes from.
“We hope that introducing this knowledge about healthy foods will encourage healthy eating habits long-term, and at the very least, start a conversation and have them asking questions about what’s in their food,” said Tori Gowing, Community Life Coordinator at the Bethany Hope Centre.
The Bethany Hope Centre has an indoor garden tower used through the winter months to supply fresh vegetables such as lettuce, kale and herbs. In the summer, the children pick vegetables from the outdoor raised beds at The Bethany Hope Centre to use in recipes.
“Last summer our garden was thriving with all sorts of different fresh veggies, so the kids were able to go out on multiple occasions and harvest,” said Tori. “They even planted their own seeds and they were able to monitor them every week. The kids seemed to really enjoy the garden, especially when they would find really big eggplants or squash!”
“Watching the kids’ faces as they picked them was amazing,” Rachel added. “The children were so excited! It was like Christmas morning.”
Each session ends with a graduation where the children cook a meal for their parents to show off their new skills.
“We also have a graduation where we present the children with certificates and show a compilation video of their experience during the session,” said Tori.
“When they cook for their parents, their smiles are so big! It’s such a beautiful program,” said Rachel.