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Project CHEF Stirs Change in the Classroom

Local non-profit says children need education on nutrition

Barb Finley, the founder of Project CHEF, teaching a group of children. Submitted photo
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Reported by Gabrielle Plonka

When it comes to educating children about nutrition, the recipe for success is to bring cooking lessons into the classroom, according to Project “Cook Healthy Edible Food.”

That’s why eight of Vancouver’s top chefs came together on March 13 to compete for the fifth annual Curry Cup and raise $1,500 for Project CHEF.

Curry for a cause

Scents of curry spices could be smelled from outside the Heritage Hall, where 150 gathered to support the one-week cooking seminars Project CHEF teaches in public schools.

Barb Finley, the project’s founder, said the non-profit organization hopes to change youth’s attitudes towards food.

Hand-on learning more effective

“It’s got to be hands-on learning. They have to understand that food that’s good for you also tastes good,” Finley said, adding that after a cooking tutorial, students are put into groups to make meals and eat together.

“Having them taste, touch, smell, create with that food—that’s going to have a far greater impact than showing them a picture,” she said.

Kathy Leigh, a cooking instructor with Project CHEF, said that children are often surprised to learn the content of their favourite snack foods.

“Physically, for them to see how many tablespoons [of sugar] goes into a Coca Cola can, they go ‘Wow, I don’t think I should drink that,” Leigh said.

According to some chefs competing for the Curry Cup, knowledge of nutrition takes its roots from lessons learned as children.

Returning judge Vikram Vij said that he first learned about nutrition while growing up in India, where his grandparents taught him about the medicinal properties of cinnamon, ginger and garlic.

Important to start early

“[It’s important] to teach kids where their food comes from and that’s why I think Project CHEF has such an important and integral role in our society,” Vij said. “It’s teaching the kids not to just go to the market and buy something, but how it grows.”

When it came to teaching his own children about nutrition, Vij focused on the importance of sustainable food sourcing, as well as always eating meals with family.

“It’s the community that makes the biggest difference [to nutrition education],” Vij said. “When you eat together, you nourish each other’s souls and minds.”

Leann Froese, an organizer for the Curry Cup, said the value of enjoying meals together was part of the ethos that inspired the competition. In the restaurant industry, curry is often made for pre-shift “family meals,” and the competition wanted to highlight how food can foster community.

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