New York City is a great place for foodie families for many reasons, but beyond awesome farmer’s markets and top-tier restaurants, the city is also home to some of the most innovative efforts in doing good work for children and families around food, nutrition, and cooking. The following five organizations bring the value of eating well and mindfully and the power of using food for good to the front lines in NYC kitchens, classrooms, and homes.
In the Classroom: Pure Food Kids Foundation
With childhood obesity having doubled in the last 30 years, educating children about responsible food choices and teaching them basic cooking skills has never been more urgent. The Pure Food Kids Foundation has a simple mission: To change the way America eats. Established in 2006 by Kurt Beecher Dammeier, an entrepreneur, chef, and owner of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (which has a location in the Flatiron district), the non-profit has empowered nearly 100,000 children in the Seattle and New York City metro areas to make healthy food choices.
The free, interactive “Pure Food Kids Workshop” which teaches children to be “Food Detectives” was launched in NYC in 2014, at a single school in the Bronx. This school year, the program hopes to reach 3,000 5th graders in more than 33 schools across the boroughs.
The core topics include nutrition label literacy, awareness around food marketing for kids, and the study of additives and preservatives. An exercise of cooking vegetarian chili wraps up the workshop. With the sweet smell of sautéed onions, garlic, and tomatoes in the air, and the entire classroom being involved, the atmosphere is “magical,” says Jonathan Saturay, the foundation’s NYC Operations Director. As parents, you can encourage children to be food detectives at home too. “If they cook it, they will eat it,” Saturay says. purefoodkids.org
Cool Bakery: Hot Bread Kitchen
Entrepreneur, cookbook author, master baker, and local mom Jessamyn Rodriguez is an extraordinary woman. After a decade of social justice and public policy work at the United Nations and various NGOs, she launched Hot Bread Kitchen out of her home kitchen in 2007. Now based in East Harlem, the non-profit social enterprise creates economic opportunities for immigrant women through careers in the food industry.
“I had this inspiration to bring delicious breads from around the world to the New York food market,” Rodriguez says. But by doing so, she also wanted to create job-training opportunities for women who needed it. Her idea of an “immigrant women baking collective” is behind the bakery’s Bakers-in-Training program. A six-month, paid on the job program helps low-income women from around the world, most of who are mothers, launch careers in baking.
“It’s a life changing experience for some of these women,” Rodriguez says. Some of them come out of incarceration or are escaping domestic violence. This innovative program gives them technical and practical skills while setting them up for success in a professional environment. Everyone who makes it through the programs gets placed in a living wage job, with vacation time and benefits.
Hot Bread Kitchen’s retail stall inside La Marqueta marketplace sells a range of artisan and multi-ethnic breads inspired by the countries the women trainees come from. The bakery has an online store, too, with an array of breads available for purchase. hotbreadkitchen.org
Kids’ Nutrition: LiTTLE GREEN GOURMETS
Founded in 2012 by local mom and chef Isabel Gunther, LiTTLE GREEN GOURMET is a fresh kids’ meal delivery service. Based out of Harlem, the kitchen prepares and delivers colorful, healthy, and delicious meals to toddlers (ages 18 months to 5 years) at schools across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Gunther developed a love for cooking and food from her mother, a food anthropologist and a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Raised in upstate New York in a “food intensive family,” Gunther remembers an idealistic childhood of riding her bike to the local dairy farm to buy milk and being responsible for picking the very extensive family garden.
Gunther began experimenting more in the kitchen and trying new cookbooks after her son Kai was born. Developing gourmet child-friendly recipes, with her son being a dutiful taste tester, soon became a passion. At the same time, Gunther would hear from family and friends who were stressed about feeding their kids. “It seemed like there was a market for children’s food especially with childcare facilities outsourcing their meal preparations,” she says. In less than five years, LiTTLE GREEN GOURMETS now serves about 700 students on a daily basis across 30 schools in the NYC metro area. littlegreengourmets.com
Teacher, entrepreneur, author, and NYC-based fitness expert, Rupa Mehta has been called a “pint-sized” guru by Vogue. Her wellness philosophy: “True health is achieved by being both physically and emotionally fit” has transformed bodies, lives, and local communities over the last 10 years.
Mehta’s unique perspective of tying emotional health to a person’s overall wellbeing comes from her years of experience as a fitness instructor. Bogged down by emotional heaviness, she noticed her physically fit clients feel “overweight.” Mehta explored the concept of emotional obesity and the weight of “words” in her first book Connect to Your One: Nalini Method published in 2008. Inspired by the book’s success and wanting to take this idea to a wider audience, she founded her non-profit NaliniKIDS to help children manage their bodies and emotions.
Partnered with the NYC Department of Education, NaliniKIDS is an in-school program for middle school and elementary students. The program, which has already touched over 10,000 NYC kids this year, integrates a physical fitness routine with a mindfulness-based emotional literacy component and has been recently selected by researchers at Columbia University for an evaluative study.
Mehta suggests a simple, daily emotional check-in with your children by asking “In one word, describe
how you are feeling?” preferably at the same time each day. Mehta views it as a positive listening opportunity for parents as their children become more adept at articulating and eventually managing specific emotions. “If you can name it, you can contain it,” she says. nalinikids.org
Giving Back: Spoons Across America
Founded in 2001, Spoons Across America is working to influence the eating habits of children through hands-on education that celebrates the connection to local farmers. The non-profit’s NYC operations touch over 5,000 students across nine core public schools across the five boroughs.
Their Farm to Table program, which introduces new foods and unfamiliar tastes through colorful picture books, is rather unique. Trained volunteers read a food related storybook and lead a food tasting session and curriculum activity with students. The children’s literature covers local and seasonal foods, foods of different cultures, and information about plants. “The goal is to learn concepts in fun and exciting ways. We want to encourage children to be food explorers who want to try new foods,” says Alexandra McDowell, director of programs and partnerships, and a local mom herself.
A common theme promoted across the different programs and classes involve sharing meals with family and friends. “Children learn about each other and the world through conversations, and food binds us,” McDowell says.
Volunteers participate in a hands-on-training session and are partnered with a Spoons Across America Food Educator and assist in all aspects of program implementation. They are key to the success of the organization’s various programs, which also include Take a Taste with Spoons, Spoons Recipe Days and The Dinner Party Project. spoonsacrossamerica.org