When Toddlers Learn to Cook

Can 2-year-olds handle cooking classes? These Maryland preschoolers sure can.Can 2-year-olds handle cooking classes? These Maryland preschoolers sure can.OK, I'll fess up immediately: I'm biased. I love cooking and I have a house full of preschoolers. (In fact, I write a whole blog about what happens when you combine the two.) So when I heard about the First Bites preschool cooking class program, I was immediately intrigued. What are they teaching 2-year-olds? Do they use knives? And how did one teacher get her whole class eating red peppers with fresh guacamole when the other class wouldn't touch the stuff? That's what I wanted to know, and it turns out there's so much more.

Caron Gremont runs First Bites. With a Master's degree from Johns Hopkins and experience as a former VP at Porter Novelli, a communications firm where she specialized in food and nutrition change programs for the USDA, among other top tier clients, starting this business seems like a dream job for this mom of two young kids in Bethesda, Maryland. First Bites isn't a school itself, they set up cooking and food education curricula in daycare and preschool for kids ranging from 2 to 5 years old--and the results are fascinating.

Along with a board of advisers, Caron started the program in 2012, and they're constantly getting requests for more classes. "Some parents are struggling with feeding at home and want to encourage their children to eat a more varied and healthy diet, but they aren't sure what to do or where to turn for support," she explains. "Some parents are frustrated that they work so hard to offer healthy foods at home, but their children come to preschool and eat chips and cookies."

And parents aren't just worried about the occasional Goldfish crackers being served at school. Says Caron, "75 percent of young children currently attend some type of day care or preschool where they consume up to three-quarters of their daily calories and nutrients." What kids eat at school counts. A lot.

Related: Why I'm Not Enrolling My Daughter in Preschool

But it's not just a healthy menu they're offering. This program is about food education, even basic cooking skills. Each classroom is equipped with mixing bowls, cutting boards and spoons, a blender and microwave. With these basic tools in place, preschoolers are learning how to tear, stir, roll and scoop--and the older kids even use knives. But the most important skill surprised me. Even the 2-year-olds started serving themselves, which made all the difference.

Take the guacamole that two different classes at similar schools made this winter. In both classes, children enjoyed squishing the avocado and mixing it all together, but there was one huge difference: "In one class, the children served themselves and almost everyone tried the dip (and many came back for seconds)," Caron explains. "In the other class, not one child even tried the guacamole." Who knows what happened there? Maybe someone decided it was too green, too weird or too yucky, and that was it for the guacamole. But you can't help but wonder what might have happened if the kids served themselves that day.

The schools pay First Bites a fee, so there's not an extra charge for parents. That means every week, like music or language classes commonly offered around the country, these kids are learning about food, how to make it and how to enjoy it. And more preschools are on board for spring. "I think both parents and preschools realize there is an opportunity and an obligation to weave food education into a preschool curriculum. If we can expose our children to healthy eating at the youngest ages, we establish behaviors that become the norm."

Sounds so good to me, but then again, she had me at "cooking classes for preschoolers."

- By Charity Curley Mathews

For 10 tricks to get your kids to eat their food, visit BabyZone!

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