Matty Young, 12, of Dorchester knows why a program that teaches kids his age to cook is important.
“It would be embarrassing to be older, like 15,” he explains, “and be hungry and home alone and have to call someone to find out how to cook something for myself to eat.”
Young also had another reason to learn how to cook. He called the pizza from a shop near his home “expensive and wicked unhealthy.”
Not surprisingly, Young is happy that he can make his own food instead of getting take out all the time. He recommends to his peers a group that is becoming more and more essential — Kids Can Cook.
“We try to empower kids to make better choices at home when they leave the program,” says Kids can Cook Executive Director Rebecca Masse. She went on to say that a child who comes away from the program with even a very basic skill like boiling water for pasta, is more likely to do just that instead of grabbing a soda and bag of chips when they are hungry. That, to Masse, is a success story.
Dedicated to providing inner city students, ages 10-14, with a safe place to spend time after school, the program, which began in 1998, is expanding its curriculum for the first time to include summertime sessions as well. The organization teaches students to make healthy food choices by educating them about nutrition, meal planning and proper portioning, and by encouraging the exploration of culturally diverse cuisines.
The group also tries to build “community” among students, their families, volunteers and teachers through teamwork, mentoring and leadership development.
During the school year, the classes are tuition free, and students sign up through a group of partner schools including Roxbury Prep, The Epiphany School and Mother Caroline Academy.
This summer, however, all are welcome, no school affiliation is required, but there is a reasonable fee for the summer camp programs.
According to program officials, summer registration fees will help to fund the after-school program, which purchases all of its own groceries and kitchen supplies and relies on donations and small family grants to run.
Space is still available for summer programs and Masse encourages parents to contact her either by phone or the program’s Web site. Full and partial scholarships are available.
The summer programs offer a choice of three options: summer camp, offered in two sessions, July 5-9 or July 12-16; or what they are calling “summer session,” which runs for six weeks and begins on July 19.
Summer session students will attend one day per week and the classes will follow the after-school model closely. All options are limited to 15 students so each child is sure to get one-on-one instruction from chef Joshua Riazi, who runs the program with Masse.
He teaches topics including kitchen safety, knife skills, comparative nutrition, healthy plate balance and proper serving sizes. He is also known for his side-by-side taste tests where the students get to learn first hand why some foods are better than others, and that taste doesn’t need to be sacrificed when making healthy choices.
No food is beyond the scope of his teaching. Children learn to prepare a wide variety of foods including whole roasted chicken, grilled fish, risotto, homemade pizza or even cachupa, a traditional Cape Verdean stew.
To register your child for a summer program or find out more information about Kids Can Cook, contact them at (617) 423-2720 or at www.kidscancook.org. For information on more summer programs in the greater Boston area that focus on healthy eating and wellness, contact your local YMCA.