Nutrition Wellness

SLB Spotlight: Cookbook Author Cricket Azima

Founder of New York’s Kids Food Festival tells us how she was inspired to teach healthy cooking classes

Meet Cricket:

Cricket is Founder & Big Cheese of  The Creative Kitchen, a kids cooking school in New York. She’s also founder of the Kids Food Festival and Author of “Everybody Eats Lunch” and “Everybody Can Cook.” She is a graduate of Boston University (BA in Communications), New York University (MA in Food Studies & Food Management), and Peter Kump’s New York Culinary School (now, The Institute of Culinary Education; professional culinary degree). Following graduation, she served as a professor of food studies and an academic advisor at NYU. Cricket is a member of the Board of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women Committee, the NYC Autism Charter School and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan Food & Nutrition Advisory Board.

 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a chef. I see in your bio there’s a photo of you dressed as a chef as a young child, so this seems to be a lifetime ambition.

My mother was not much of a cook, unless opening a can of tuna is considered cooking! I think her aversion to cooking directly affected my desire to be a good cook (plus, I was sick and tired of canned tuna)! My fondest childhood memories surround the kitchen. I remember taking cooking classes at age 5 at a small gourmet store in Kansas City. Believe it or not, I actually prepare some of those same recipes today–Stone Soup and Navajo Fried Bread are both regular menu items in my home and in my classroom. I also recall being in Montessori school and the excitement of simply cutting up bread and passing it to my peers. Without question, of all the classes and schools I have attended

 

2.  When did you decide to make cooking with children your focus?

I have always loved to cook and eat. I was at a crossroad in my career, trying to decide between becoming a chef or an elementary school teacher, when it hit me – I can do both! Now, my company The Creative Kitchen teaches children about food, my favorite topic. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too!

 

3. Healthy eating is obviously a passion of yours. Tell us a little bit about the inspiration to start the Kids Food Festival?

 

The Kids Food Festival, is a series of 2-day festivals presented by The Creative Kitchen. The weekend of events is a celebration to educate children on how to make balanced food choices, in effort to aid in the prevention of childhood obesity through fun-filled family activities. I knew that if children learn balanced eating habits early, they are more likely to keep these habits as adults and pass them on to their children. Given that childhood obesity is an epidemic in the U.S., teaching kids how to cook and make balanced food choices (and teaching their parents as well!) can go a long way.

 

4. What advice would you give parents who are trying to come up with fast, easy and nutritious meals for their children?

No parent should be a short order cook! In my opinion, most any food is appropriate for children. If a child is only offered chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese, then, of course that’s what he or she will want and prefer. The challenge is exposure.

Children typically don’t like foods they don’t know. But, once a child becomes familiar with a food, he or she is much more comfortable with and open-minded to eating it.

For this reason, I incorporate a variety of colorful, delicious ingredients in each recipe. This ensures the children in my classes are exposed to as much as possible. And, since the recipes go home with each child, this ensures Mom and Dad get something they like, too!

5. Advice to parents of picky eaters?

It’s important that kids are involved; and whether that’s with the hands-on activity or simply with the choices. So, for example, you can ask your child, “Do you prefer broccoli or carrots tonight?” You’re happy with whichever they pick, and they feel that they have been empowered to choose. They get so excited and they want to eat the vegetable because they chose it. It’s helping them make the right choices by setting boundaries that lead them that way.

6. Many parents don’t involve their children in meal prep. What’s the No. 1 mistake that parents make with their children in the kitchen?

Give children tasks that match their physical and developmental abilities. For example, while young children can safely cut many foods with a plastic knife, many vegetables surprisingly don’t require a knife at all! Challenge young kids to help out by tearing items like leafy greens, herbs or broccoli with just their hands.

To learn more about Cricket, check out her website The Creative Kitchen,  or some of her recipes on SLB: Brainy Breakfast Bites or Breakfast Cake.