By Emily Kemme
Sapna Von Reich wants to eliminate the fear of cooking at an early age. By offering kid-friendly, hands-on classes, she believes she’s making progress. With a goal of getting kids aged 6 to 12 comfortable in the kitchen, she encourages them to try new foods.
Von Reich starts off by asking a rhetorical question that’s steeped in philosophy.
“What’s your favorite food? Pizza — well, how would you know if you’d never tried it? If you don’t try it, how would you know if you don’t like it?”
Then she cautions the kids she teaches, “And you can always throw it away.”
Her advice comes from early learning in the kitchen herself. Growing up in India, her mother taught her and her three siblings how to cook a variety of foods, which primarily were with vegetables, legumes, and fresh, seasonal fruits bought in the local market. Eating from a predominantly vegetarian palate, her family also consumed a small amount of dairy.
But snack foods in India, even if homemade, are deep-fried and loaded with sugar and dairy, she said. As a result, Type-2 diabetes is common. With her parents experiencing increasing health problems as they aged, Von Reich’s sister enrolled in a Plant-Based Foods program designed to reverse the effects of diabetes. Inspired by her family’s weight loss and return to health, Sapna enrolled in what she believes was a life-changing PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program. Her migraines disappeared, and she lost much of the residual baby weight from her pregnancies. She was thrilled when an opportunity presented itself to become a PCRM Food for Life instructor. Since then, she has adopted a completely vegan lifestyle.
Von Reich offers several cooking classes for kids, each limited to around 12 participants so everybody gets a chance to be involved in the process.
In a recent Comfort Foods for the Mind and Body class, the kids cooked four recipes. A chickpea burger prepared with celery, carrots, garlic, and brown rice spiced with cumin and coriander was the main course. It’s topped with parmesan, which has a pleasant, nutty flavor. The “burger” was paired with chopped carrots and purple sweet potato fries which were oven-baked. There was also a made-from-scratch tomato soup thickened with a blend of cashews and water to create a vegan cream. The meal finished with a quick-cooking microwave warm chocolate cake prepared with cocoa powder, chocolate chips, apple sauce, and sugar.
“The kids processed the raw burger batter and thought it was just okay. Then everybody made a patty, we put it in a pan and cooked it on both sides in a little oil. They could eat it plain or with a slider bun. I think the reaction was mixed, some really liked it, some just wanted to eat the parmesan topping. Only one or two refused to try it at all.”
She believes most tried it thanks to the special aura surrounded by cooking something yourself.
She allows kids as young as 7 years old to chop with real knives, but keeps an eye on them. She hopes to perpetuate the excitement about healthy food being tasty by encouraging them to take the recipes home and make it there.
“When I did a Thanksgiving class last fall, we made a roasted broccoli and cauliflower. When the mom picked up her kids, they wanted to go straight to the store to buy broccoli and cauliflower to make at home. That’s success.”
Von Reich offers two hour classes in Windsor at the Community Center. The $25 fee includes whatever is cooked to eat. She also teaches a Kids Nutrition and Cooking Camp at Chilson Center in Loveland. There are also classes for adults.
See her website for class schedules and registration information.