REENFIELD — Sydney Frank furrowed her brow as she guided a child-safe vegetable peeler over the edge of a zucchini.
As the 6-year-old grew comfortable with the tool, her enthusiasm increased, and soon she had that zucchini peeled, ready to be sliced and grilled on shrimp kebabs.
Frank and six other children, ages 6 to 9, learned about herbs and healthy cooking choices Monday at the Healthy Hands Cooking class, offered by the Greenfield Parks and Recreation department at the Patricia Elmore Center. Katie Staples of Greenfield, a certified Healthy Hands Cooking instructor, led the program, which aims to fight childhood obesity by teaching nutrition and healthy choices through classes that are fun for kids.
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The Healthy Hands cooking program is a community partner with the USDA Nutrition Network, which works to educate U.S. children about healthy nutrition and build support for healthy school and child care environments that encourage nutritious food choices and physically active lifestyles, according to the USDA website.
Staples, who is a stay-at-home mom, began offering classes at the parks department in February and plans to continue with the hands-on cooking activities through December. She receives a small percentage of the fees for the cooking courses.
Staples likes to plan a theme for classes whenever possible — for example, March’s classes had a green theme for St. Patrick’s Day, and she taught students how to make an avocado dip, a Shamrock smoothie and a healthier cookie option with spinach food coloring.
At Monday’s class, the students worked together with fresh ingredients. They chopped potatoes with safety knives and then sprinkled the potatoes with rosemary. They made one cookie sheet of potatoes with dried rosemary and one with fresh rosemary plucked from its stems. They peeled the tails off shrimp and peeled cucumbers to make grilled kebabs.
Kelly Milburn of New Palestine brought her sons, Dylan and Gavin, to the class Monday.
Gavin, 6, had attended the class before. He likes to cook at home, and his mother wanted to encourage him to experiment with his new-found hobby.
He enjoyed every moment of the last class, his mom said. And in a fun environment, he was encouraged to sample healthy foods, ones he would have refused at home, like peppers, his mother said.
Allison Baker of New Palestine hoped her son, Brody Baker, 8, would get more ideas from the class and become a less picky eater.
“I think it’s gonna be really good for him,” she said. “He really loves to help.”
Staples said she has enjoyed learning alongside the young people in her classes, and few classes have strayed from the lesson plan. She has made adjustments since February to make sure every child has a task in order to use the two-hour time frame wisely and empower all participants to work together.
Staples would love to have other moms join her in teaching the cooking classes, she said; the more the merrier. It doesn’t require any special background in culinary arts or nutrition, — just a bit of lesson planning to make sure activities run smoothly.
Healthy Hands provides the supplies; in Monday’s case, plastic place mats and safety knives were on hand for all students.
Bella Calvert, 9, said she took the class because she enjoys baking with her grandma. Her favorite part was cutting up the ingredients — especially those potatoes — while preparing the dishes.
The Greenfield Parks and Recreation department has been looking for someone to lead cooking classes for years, said Kim Voorhis, Patricia Elmore Center director.
“I think a lot of kids enjoy cooking, but their parents don’t have the time to help them cook alongside them,” she said. “This class gives them the opportunity for independence and knowledge about cooking.”
Healthy Hands Cooking classes are being offered at the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department, 280 Apple St. These classes are $25 per child per class for city residents; $28 per child per class for those outside of the city limits. Parents can register by calling the parks department at 317-477-4340.
6 to 8 p.m. June 6 for children age 5 to 8
6 to 8 p.m. June 13 for children age 9 to 13
Beginning in July, classes will be offered from 6 to 8 p.m. the first Monday of each month.