The mission of The Beecher’s Foundation is to build a better food future for all. To make this happen, they offer programs for both youth and adults, educating and inspiring people to eat real food and vote with every food dollar.
Their Pure Food Kids Workshop is a no-cost, commercial-free food education class for 4th and 5th graders that is learning standards-aligned. The program is free to all schools in the Puget Sound and New York City-area (public, private, charter) and prepares students to become “Food Detectives” equipped with the tools to read labels, understand how ingredient lists are ordered, see through marketing messages, and cook from scratch. So far, more than 160,000 have participated in the program, with 36% reporting that it helped make lasting changes to the food they eat.
To date, more than 160,000 students have completed the program. A full year after completing the program, 36% report having made lasting changes to the food they eat.
We asked Sara Billups, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at The Beecher’s Foundation, for her insights into educating kids about food, getting them involved in cooking, helping them expand their palettes and why Monday is a great day to get on a healthier track.
Why is it important for children to be involved in cooking and preparing food?
We know that about one in three children and teens living in the United States are overweight or obese, and that big food spends billions each year marketing food to our kids in schools and on screens and billboards. Families taking control of mealtime by planning, cooking, and eating together doesn’t just build strong lifetime habits, but pushes back against an industry promoting overly processed food to kids.
Why is Monday a good day to cook and eat meals together?
We talk all the time about starting small and making incremental changes to shopping and eating that can make a big impact on overall health. Choosing a day of the week (Monday is a great one!) to plan and eat together translates to 52 days a year of eating and being together. Just one day a week really adds up!
What is your approach to picky eaters to make sure they are eating nutritious meals?
We know that when kids learn to cook, they become more curious and willing to try ingredients along the way. Maybe some kids won’t devour mixed vegetables over millet, for example, but when they’re using plastic knives to cut red pepper or adding cumin and salt to season a grain, they’re more likely to sneak tastes. Slowly, cooking gets picky kids more comfortable with a plate full of flavors, colors and textures.
How does learning about where food comes from and ingredients contribute to kids eating healthier?
For us, it’s just as important for a kid to walk into a corner store and know to choose a bag of potato chips made with simple ingredients like oil, potatoes, and salt instead of chemicals. It may not be a farmer’s market apple, but it’s a big step to improving individual health and our overall food system.
What are some tips you have for families during the busy back-to-school season?
We talk about a lot of strategies for busy families that really just require a small amount of planning. Try batch cooking on Sunday, and freeze everything. We have a handy meal guide for families that like to plan for a whole week. To give parents a little kid-led inspiration, we have a kids meal planner that lets young eaters circle foods they like or might like to try.
What is your favorite kid-friendly classroom recipe?
Our vegetable chili! There’s a magic moment at the end of our Pure Food Kids workshop when students cut veggies and measure spices to make a vegetable chili right in class. Sometimes kids wrinkle their noses at ingredients like stewed tomatoes or cilantro, but they almost always try — and love! — the finished recipe, often making it at home for their family.