Alamelu Vairavan, a Whitefish Bay resident, is an author and culinary instructor. Alamelu has a passion for educating the public about the use of spices and legumes in preparing healthy and tasty foods. She is also interested in educating the public about the growing research that points to the enormous health benefits of spices in preventing many diseases. Her mission is to enrich people's culinary experience and to inspire them to discover that cooking and sharing healthful foods can be an especially joyful experience.
Visit Alamelu's web site, CurryOnWheels.com.
Think again! At a healthful cooking class titled, “Veggies, Spices & More” for kids (8 to 12 years) old at the Bay View Community Center on November 20, I found ten young girls eager to learn to cook and eat vegetable dishes prepared with spices and legumes. In this class we explored a range of enticing flavors found in Healthy Indian cuisine. The girls showed so much interest and joy in learning something quite different from what they are normally used to everyday.
I noticed a very vibrant Bay View Community Center that was bustling with various activities for adults and kids. I saw the program booklet and I was amazed how many varied activities were going on for children, teens, adults, families and older adults. I thought this community center serves the people very well and can be a model of other community centers. There were many classes that I would have liked to take myself. The mission of the Bay View Community Center is to develop individuals, provide support and strengthen families!
Now, my exciting experience with kids at the Bay View Communication center begins. Shortly after I arrived at the facility, I was getting ready to greet my astute students. The class was from 6:30 PM to 8 PM and 10 very enthusiastic girls marched into the class. We exchanged greetings. I found the kids to be very curious and very eager to learn and participate. Of course, all of them wanted to get their hands on cooking. The kids were fascinated by different spices displayed in the spice box and were eager to see what was going to be presented.
I started the class by asking various questions about their cooking skills. I was again amazed to hear some girls saying that they start the cooking prep work, and sometimes even cook, before the parents arrived from work. Many said they liked to cook with their grandmothers.
I showed them all the fresh vegetables and discussed the spices. We were going to make three Thanksgiving side dishes. The menu for the day was: Tuna Masala; Bell Pepper Tomato Rice with Cashews; Cucumber, Tomato Yogurt Salad. All of them were given cutting boards and knives. The girls chopped onions, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, cucumber and bell peppers. It was thrilling for me to see the girls’ eagerness and interest in participation. After cutting the vegetables, we went to our cooking table. We had a single gas burner on a table. All the girls were sitting around the table. When I asked who would like to cook with me, all hands went up saying, “me, me, me”. For each dish, I picked one or two girls to help cook and others to sit and watch. When my cute assistants stirred the spices and started the cooking process with me, all their eyes were widened saying, “oh cool, it smells so good, can I do that too”. They watched the sizzling of the spices and were enarmored by the wonderful aromas. They couldn’t believe how easy the process was. The simple cooking techniques sparked their interests, as I shared the health benefits of spices and talked about the vegetables. After making each dish, they couldn’t wait to taste the dish.
When they tasted, some decided to save the dish that was served to them to take home to share with their parents. I was so touched by their gesture. At the end of the program, the kids wanted my business card, e-mail and phone number. They were eager to be in touch with me. One student said, “ I wish I could take you home” and another one said, “ I wish my mom could meet you”. I was so touched by their comments. Everyone wanted to know where to get the cookbook, and I said I will donate two books to the Bay View Community Center library and they could check them out. They were so happy. I returned home fully energized by the kids’ response. It was an amazing and memorable experience, and very similar to an experience with kids in a Shorewood Middle School I had last year.
It seemed clear to me that kids will enjoy healthful foods, including vegetables, when the foods served are not bland but are aromatic and flavorful. Also starting at early age with learning to cook, they learn to make healthier choices. The kids will enjoy the foods even more when they take part in grocery shopping and cooking along with their family.
So, let us not accept the prevalent view that kids inherently dislike vegetables. One cookbook in the market suggests ways to “sneak” the vegetables and then give to kids. Why sneak? It is important to educate the kids about variety of vegetables. Let them see, touch, feel and learn about the vegetables. Make the foods appealing and aromatic. The kids will be naturally drawn to vegetables. You will be amazed by the results!