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Cooking with kids discourages picky eating and arms them with lifelong skills, instructor says

 
 
 
 

Cooking instructor Hilit Nurick leads a class at Brockton prep school in North Vancouver. Nurick teaches the basics, including safety and technique, so kids don't have to be babied in the kitchen.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

We drive them to dance and soccer and encourage them to learn algebra and make sure they spend hundreds of hours practising all of the above, but when it is time to cook, the kids are too often banished from the kitchen.

At the end of the day, when all you want to do is get supper on the table, the idea of having the kids help cook is too much for some parents to contemplate, said Hilit Nurick, who teaches children cooking skills in schools, community centres and private homes.

The holidays are a perfect time to cook with the kids, without the time pressure of everyday life bearing down on you.

The skills your children learn in the kitchen are the ones they will use more often than anything else you teach them. Teaching children to cook also has the power to transform your family's culture, Nurick said.

Carla van Messel brought Nurick into her home to teach a cooking course to her entire family, parents and children together.

"We have five children aged seven to 16 and we wanted to give them knife skills," van Messel said. "They know how to cook basic things, but to really empower the children we wanted to give them real skills."

Nurick brings an assistant, ingredients and all the equipment, including knives, cutting boards and even aprons.

"She showed us all the knives and what they are for, how they are weighted and how to hold the knife and use it most efficiently," van Messel said. "That was really good, because we have four lefties and three righties in the family."

Nurick took the family through the basics and worked on safety and technique.

Now when van Messel needs help cooking a meal, she has a stable of five helpers to call on, with the skills and experience to be a help rather than a hindrance in the kitchen. The kids enjoy practising so much that van Messel has trouble using everything that they chop.

"I like to cook and I do cook, but I need help with the volume of food that I have to deal with, having a big family. Now I always have a helper," van Messel said.

"On those days when I'm too tired to cook I just tell the kids to deal," she said. "And I don't just get macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich. My 14-year-old Jed lines up his little brothers and I get Japanese food or an Indian meal.

"It's a mess, but I'm fine with that," she laughed.

Nurick insists kids don't have to be babied in the kitchen and that cooking is a perfect way to defuse fussy eaters. Once kids get a chance to see and feel and work with the ingredients, they are always willing to try what they have made.

"When I first go into a classroom, kids are not very open-minded," Nurick said. "They are not willing at first to try different things, but as the course goes on and they work with ingredients, they are more willing to try new things and green things."

Many families have a limited roster of dishes that rotate weekly, leaving kids with a narrow view of the possibilities that food presents.

"They have limited choices at home and don't often get the opportunity to help cook. They know food comes from the supermarket and comes out of boxes; they don't know that food comes from the earth."

When children come to Nurick's class, they are amazed that they can make their own pasta.

Nurick has designed classes for children as young as seven.

"We make real food like bread and soups or tapenade and pesto, main courses and fresh pasta from scratch," Nurick said. "I don't believe in kid food."

Transforming simple ingredients into a finished dish is a journey, Nurick said.

"It's not just standing in a kitchen. We learn about the ingredients and how they come together to make a whole meal. Once you know about an ingredient and a method, you can take what you know and apply it to another dish."

rshore@vancouversun.com

Blog: vancouversun.com/randyshore

 
 
 

Cooking instructor Hilit Nurick leads a class at Brockton prep school in North Vancouver. Nurick teaches the basics, including safety and technique, so kids don't have to be babied in the kitchen.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun