Q & A with the Healthy Cook, Kate Sherwood
Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Kate Sherwood is culinary director of Nutrition Action and Center for Science in the Pubic Interest. She recently put together her top 20 recipes for new cooks, young and old. CSPI’s online community manager Clare Politano chatted with Kate about why it’s critical to get kids cooking.
CP: Kate, what’s a great recipe for a child to try who has never cooked before?
KS: Salad dressing! A simple dressing requires no special equipment, no heat, no chopping, no knives. And it makes the healthiest of ingredients—vegetables—taste delicious!
CP: That’s unexpected! I thought you’d say peanut butter and jelly…
KS: Or oatmeal. Both of which are also possible starting places but I’d say peanut butter and apple or peanut butter and banana.
CP: What was the first recipe that you learned to cook, and how old were you?
KS: Oh gosh. Cheese raviolis with jarred pasta sauce.
CP: Prepared ones?
KS: Yeah, frozen raviolis. It’s not terribly healthy, but it’s not horrifyingly bad. I want to say I was 7 or 8. Not to suggest that 7 or 8 year-olds should throw things into boiling pots of water!
It was a special treat, for Friday or Saturday night.
CP: What did you eat the rest of the time?
KS: Bread, cheese. We ate very simple food most of the time.
CP: Is that part of why you became The Healthy Cook?
KS: Yes, it’s part of why I am who I am. But it wasn’t always like that. Sometimes my dad would take us out to dinner at an Italian restaurant and it was very exciting.
CP: So you developed an appreciation for more elaborate food even though you didn’t get to enjoy it very often.
KS: Italian was still exotic back then. The red and white tablecloth wasn’t kitsch, it was nice!
I also remember once I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies. I got out all the ingredients, then marched over to my mom and said, “There is NOT enough baking powder!” She said, “How much do you need?” I said, “A CUP,” because I was reading it wrong, it was actually one teaspoon!
CP: Those would have been some interesting cookies.
KS: Interesting and terrible! And a waste of food. As a kid, I was always worried that there wouldn’t be enough food or that we would run out of ingredients. So that’s why… I think I’m still food insecure. So even though I have a fully stocked home and test kitchen, in my back of my mind, I still worry that there just won’t be enough.
CP: Right. I don’t think that mindset ever really leaves you.
So, cooking was a survival skill for you. But nowadays one-third of U.S. children are overweight, and still there are undernourished children as well. How can teaching kids to cook help alleviate this situation?
KS: Cooking is the foundation of healthy eating and is the only way to eat well. There is no way to eat a take-away, frozen, microwaved diet, and stay healthy. Options don’t exist to make that possible.
CP: And maybe one day they will. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, you just can’t.
KS: That’s true. And one day we can all have a private chef! But for now the vast majority of us need to know how to cook. So making cooking a pleasurable habit is fundamental. Having it be an activity that you love and enjoy, that you do with your family, is essential. And make it part of how you enjoy your family and friends, and part of your life.
I think the Greek root for ‘diet’ means way of life. We’ve turned diet into something you impose upon yourself and suffer through. But a healthy diet can be a way of life, and a joy! The sooner you start kids, even if they have to just climb up on a stool and help you wash greens or tear lettuce, that’s great. Little kids love mimicking their parents. They want to do all the things Mommy and Daddy are doing. And then they’re cooking! And eating the good stuff.
CP: What are other little tasks small children can help with in the kitchen?
KS: Besides washing fruits and vegetables, they can tear up salad or cooking greens, make salad dressing, and help measure ingredients. They can collect the pots and pans from the cupboard or get ingredients from the fridge or pantry. They can stir or whisk. And it’s important to include kids in tasting a dish and deciding whether it’s ready and nicely seasoned. Even better, include them in picking out what’s going to be in the salad, or which veggies they’d like to eat. Take them shopping! The more control and choice they have, the more likely they are to try different things.
CP: What advice do you have for adults helping kids learn more advanced skills, like knife skills or using the stove or oven?
KS: Start kids off with a butter knife—they’re not sharp and they don’t have a point—but there are things you can do, like cut cherry tomatoes.
A peeler is pretty safe, as long as a child is taking her time, and peeling away from herself. Not round items, but something like a carrot. Use a peeler with a nice big handle and good grip.
Not hurting yourself with a knife has to do with motor skills, and focus in the kitchen. The parent has to judge. Some kids aren’t ready to use a knife at 7. Some are. If the kitchen is a calm environment where the child can focus, and you’re supervising them, I think you can graduate the child to a small paring knife with a rounded tip.
Kids also need to know the rules of the kitchen—like don’t walk around with a knife in your hand. Don’t drop a knife in a soapy sink of water. Use oven mitts when using the stove or grill.
CP: Who’s your favorite kid that you cook with?
KS: I cook with all my nephews. The middle one, Cole, is 13 and he’s always been a keen cook. We’ve done everything from salad dressing to teaching him knife skills, and up through homemade pasta, homemade filled pasta. He invited a bunch of friends over to try it and he was so proud!
What I love is that you can incorporate math and science, history and culture, into cooking. When you’re chatting with kids and cooking, all that fits in. Where do these flavors come from and why do they taste so good together? Why do you put a sweet spice like cinnamon or nutmeg into savory dishes? Doesn’t that seem weird? So you have the chance to tell them where the recipe comes from and why it’s so delicious … you get to find hooks into what kids are interested in. Food touches on all aspects of life and gives you lots of chances to explore new ideas with your kids.
Clare Politano is the Online Community Manager for Center for Science in the Public Interest and works closely with the Food Day team.
Download Kate’s 20 Recipes to Get Kids Cooking!