Katherine Zahirovic skirts the edge of a large table, carefully arranging a collection of colorful placemats and nylon knife sets. Reaching into a large red bag, she assembles a collection of ingredients, including everything from almonds to a pineapple. Today she’s setting the table for a “Healthy Snacking, Yummy Munchies” class, just one of her hands-on workshops that’s cultivating a community of culinary kids.
With a passion for food science, the Wilbraham resident brings a lot to the table with a unique perspective on nutrition, the biochemical nature of foods and principles of food processing. Katherine graduated from UMass Amherst, gaining a broad knowledge and intimate understanding of the food industry. In the lab she developed food products, enforced food regulations and conducted quality assurance procedures – among others. From a lab perspective, she understands how ingredients chemically interact with one another, but also - most importantly - how they break down in the body.
With 80-hour workweeks and her first baby on the way, Katherine was looking to branch away from the food industry and all its demands. She remembers having a conversation with a friend, one who presumed corn syrup was good for you, since it was derived from corn. It was at that moment she realized the community was hungry for information and like that, Healthy Cooking for Kids was born.
With some research she found Healthy Hands Cooking, a nationwide movement to fight childhood obesity by certifying and empowering instructors to teach children and families about nutrition and healthy cooking. After her first class – a workshop featuring lunch options from around the world – she was hooked.
“The kids loved it because they felt empowered,” says Katherine. “Not only did they get to use [kid safe] knives, but they were able to put their own food together and realize their creation. That’s when I knew I was in the right place.”
Katherine believes cultivating culinary kids is a great way to help build healthy habits early on. When children know how to make healthy food choices and can prepare well-balanced meals on their own, they’ll be far less reliant on unhealthy, quick and easy options like fast food and pre-packaged foods.
Designed for children 2-13 and up, each cooking class starts with a 30-minute educational activity or game followed by cooking 2-4 healthy recipes. In her classes young participants learn knife safety – how to chop, cut and dice –substitute unhealthy foods with nutrient dense options, read ingredient labels and interpret each component. Through hands-on activities she also shares how to prevent cross-contamination, create balanced plates, and tips on general food safety.
“Every single one of my classes start with a 30-minute food nutrition lesson,” says Katherine. “Since it’s not being taught in school it’s my way of getting in front of the kids and giving them information that they really, really need.”
Today, the group is immersed in a collaborative baking project, each contributing to a different step of a Raspberry Cookie Bar recipe. Later they work individually, creating chocolate banana smoothies, inside out sandwiches, and the classic – ants on a log. Class themes vary, offering a deeper understanding on everything from chickpeas to eggs and decoding the many names of sugar – a special Halloween workshop. Likewise, an 8-hour core curriculum (divided over a month) is an all-encompassing class serving as a foundation for healthy eating. Katherine offers learning opportunities year-round through afterschool programs, summers camps, birthday parties, and private group lesson (locations vary).
“A lot of children are eating very unhealthily and storing all of that fat,” says Katherine. “This generation is the first to have a lower life expectancy than the ones before them – they won’t live as long as us. It’s because of all the chemicals, processed foods and absence of fruits and vegetables, in my belief. I feel it’s important to share what nutrients we need, but also show them how to get them.”
Katherine’s approach isn’t to tell people what they should and should not eat, but to educate kids (and parents alike) about how our bodies use and store different foods. Her goal is to build kitchen skills, confidence, provide food education and inspire healthy food choices. She mentions one family in particular, who revamped their entire diet based on the curriculum. They’re now making their own bread, home cooked meals and also took away sugars and processed foods. Together, they’ve lost dozens of pounds just by changing their diets. It’s those moments of self- empowerment that Katherine finds truly touching.
“It’s not a very lucrative business, but I love kids and for me it’s very rewarding,’ says Katherine with tears of joy welling in her eyes. “It’s amazing to know that you’ve touched someone’s life and in a way that will change it for better and empower them with a healthy lifestyle they can utilize throughout the rest of their lives.”
For class schedules and locations, contact:
healthy cooking for kids . Katherine Zahirovic . healthy-cooking-with-kids.com . (413)-544-0370 . email@example.com