kids corner: Q&A with Jill Colella on picky eaters, table conversations, and more

At Marley Spoon, we relish our buckwheat and carrot vitality bowls as much as we enjoy chomping down on crispy pork cutlets. We also take great pride in our...

By: Anna Decker / 03/09/2016

Whether it is our two-person box for adults or our newly introduced family meal box, our motto is the same—to cook, enjoy and share delicious food. Jill Colella shares our philosophy.

As a children’s food literacy advocate, Jill gives great importance in knowing where food comes from. She believes in eating her kale and her cookies, just like us. As the founder and editor of two children’s food magazines, Ingredient (ages 7 and up) and Butternut (ages 3-6), she uses photo essays and vignettes to inspire children to build a lifelong relationship with food. “We can help our children eat better by instilling a sense of curiosity in what they eat,” she says.

blog images Jill colellaOur curiosity for trying new ingredients, our connection to food, and our table conversations around a meal, are the perfect ingredients for forming a great relationship with food, whether you're six or sixty.

Let’s chat more with cookbook author and chef, Jill Colella.

Your latest issue of Butternut focuses entirely on a potato—how it’s grown to the different ways it’s eaten. How important is it for children to know where their food comes from?

To me it’s important that kids be able to contextualize themselves in the world by being aware of where food comes from. This way, they can see themselves as participants in the life cycle here on planet Earth.

Butternut Spread Potato BoyKnowing that a French fry comes from hard work invested by those who grew and prepared the potato gives kids a sense of appreciation.

Butternut magazine

We truly believe there is pleasure in eating together—sharing stories and building food memories. How do children benefit from having meals together as a family?

Busy, modern life often crowds out the opportunity for cultivating ritual. Preparing and eating food together is a form of ritual —what, when and how you eat.

A family favorite dish—in my case, the French-Canadian meat pie t_ourtière—_can say so much about your background and values, and when relatives who passed these things down are gone, the recipes remain and keep you connected to where you came from.

The tourtière was always on the holiday table at my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandfather, a quiet and stoic man, was from a family of lumberjacks outside Quebec. He didn’t tell stories about his life. He didn’t play with us the way grandparents do now. But, this was a food that mattered to him, and that is why it matters to me today.

Picky eaters. We hear that all the time. Do you have any tips (as a self-proclaimed former picky eater) to make mealtimes less stressful for the child and the parent?

Often food aversion is about fear. It might seem irrational, but fear of moving beyond a comfort zone of familiar tastes and textures is real for some kids.

I think that a Golden Rule approach can be helpful—I can’t imagine an adult would want to be bribed or forced to eat something that he or she doesn’t care to eat. Applying that same pressure to a child can lead to increased fear and even greater aversion, so let’s treat children like adults. Children should be made responsible for how and what they eat.

As a chef who has taught and cooked with children for over 10 years, do you see a connection between being involved in the kitchen and having a better relationship with food?

Curiosity and appreciation are the cornerstones in developing a positive lifelong relationship with food. When I hear people exclaim that they dislike cooking or are terrible at it, it makes my heart sad. This is because they haven’t seen and felt the magic of it.

Cooking is alchemy, but it’s real. Helping kids see this will make them interested in food and cooking, and by having them be involved, they can better understand the importance of planning, reducing waste and sharing with others, which are all forms of appreciation.

With spring round the corner, I thought it would be apt to talk about your book—Grow It, Cook It, which encourages children to be involved in gardening. What are the advantages of children being involved with food from its very start?

Kids learn from an early age how seeds become bean plants, and then later in elementary school that there are physical patterns like the nitrogen and water cycles. But when that learning happens, it is often conceptual and from the purview of science.

But we can make the learning more immediate if we place children at the center of an ecosystem by making them responsible for raising food and getting the reward of eating.

Jill Colella’s books - Jewish Holidays Cookbook (DK, 2008) and Grow It, Cook It (DK, 2008) inspire both children and adults to explore their food horizons. Her magazines Ingredientand Butternutare available for print ($35) and digital subscriptions ($10) annually.

All images courtesy of Jill Colella.

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