Remember Chef Julia? She was recently recognized as a local American Graduate Champion. Ever since taking a top honor at the 2015 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, she's traveled, taught, and has been prominently featured in local media. We were curious as to how and when Julia's love for cooking started so we asked Rachel Knight Rissberger, Julia's mother, about this. Rachel was kind enough to share her experience through this guest web post and she included some great book recommendations.
Eating healthy is important to me and knowing how to cook well seems like the obvious route to achieve that goal. I have always enjoyed cooking and some of my earliest memories involve the kitchen. I am also well aware of the effects of good nutrition on child development. Therefore, it seemed natural to me that my children would accompany me in the kitchen.
Julia was a curious child right from the start. She was very observant and always wanted to see what I was doing. It wasn’t enough for her to be near me when I was cooking: she needed to see IN the bowl. At 11 months old, it was too unwieldy to hold her with one arm and cook with the other, and I wasn’t comfortable having her stand on a chair at the counter. That was when I rigged up a Julia-sized counter in the kitchen. I took a sturdy wooden cutting board, opened one of the lowest drawers in the kitchen, and wedged the cutting board over the top of the open drawer. It was perfect. I had both hands free, and Julia could safely see and also participate. She loved it. She would get so excited when she saw her little counter set up with my favorite yellow mixing bowl. By the time she was 4, she could cook scrambled eggs by herself. When she was in second grade, she cooked her first complete dinner for the family—sloppy joes with homemade seasoning mix, roasted sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Julia is adventurous with her cooking and is willing to try new things. She never prepares a savory recipe as written but adds her own personal twist.
Her first cookbook was one that I made for her when she was 4 and not yet a prolific reader. I used picture icons for simple meals like black bean burritos and tortellini primavera with simple/forgiving measurements like one onion or one can of beans. Then she received some story books that featured recipes. Her favorites were "A Pipkin of Pepper" by Helen Cooper and "Bee-bim Bop!" by Linda Sue Park. "The Cookbook for Kids" from William Sonoma was her favorite first proper cookbook and is still go-to resource for her.
I am so pleased that Julia has learned to cook and is aware of the importance of good nutrition. I am amazed that she can look at a recipe she loves and find ways to make it healthier and still taste great. I am proud that as the 2015 New York State Healthy Lunchtime Challenge winner Julia has taken Michelle Obama’s request to “pay it forward” seriously and is sharing her knowledge and skills with other children. But mostly I am happy in knowing that Julia is a happy, confident, and healthy girl. I can’t wait to see what she does next!
Thank you to Rachel and Julia for sharing their time and thoughts with us! Feeling inspired? There's still time to enter the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. Maybe your child could be the next Chef Julia!