While the catered offerings at children’s birthday parties and other kid-friendly events typically consist of foods such as gluey mac and cheese and fried chicken fingers, a local cooking school offers something quite different for developing young palates. Thomas Stevens, the co-founder of Freshmade NYC, proposes healthier alternatives that are appealing to both parents and children alike. Stevens’ business not only delivers prepared seasonal and organic foods anywhere kids congregate, but it also hosts healthy cooking classes for ages 2 and older. Given that the city itself can feel like a chaotic kitchen with pots boiling over at every turn, Stevens provides the time and space for families to get together and cook wholesome meals in a fun and creative environment.
It all started when the NYC father of two worked at a health food place on the Upper East Side—an experience that lent him a stronger sense of health consciousness. Stevens’ life experience already included culinary school, restaurant gigs, working at the Children’s Aid Society, and raising two boys of his own, so the blending of food and family life was a natural progression. He also credits his upbringing, in which he didn’t always have the healthiest options in front of him, that made him believe all the more in the importance of good nutrition.
“We grew up on a lot of fat and fatty foods,” he laughs. “[But] I’ve taken a lot of what I learned and put a spin on making it healthier and better.” With switches such as grilled, lean organic chicken breast instead of big pieces with all the skin and fat still on, the dishes that Stevens assembles, like his BBQ chicken wraps, can taste just as good as the original.
What Stevens enjoys most about his job is seeing families come together for a culinary experience they won’t get just anywhere in the city. “We actually sit down and the kids learn how to set the table and how to work together in the kitchen,” Stevens describes. “The kids also get to spend time together and they learn that everything Mom and Dad make is not all bad—that veggies aren’t so bad—and they’re much more interested in tasting the end result.”
Part of the Freshmade NYC experience is visiting local farms in the after school programs. “The kids learn how to plant their own herbs and kale… [They] not only learn how to prepare fresh foods, but see where it comes from,” Stevens says.
Beyond engaging children with where their food comes from, Stevens makes healthy cooking more accessible by couching it in a very basic concept for kids. “We present them colorfully—that’s important,” he says. “We’re always talking about the color of the foods, eating the rainbow and how good it is for the body when you eat all the different colors,” Stevens explains. What also captures the kids’ attention is literature, which he incorporates into every class. “Kids love books and stories,” he says. “No matter what kind of a story it is, as long as it’s fun and interesting, they’re really into it.”
While Freshmade NYC offers a plethora of fun classes full of various activities and dishes, the kids love juicing and making smoothies more than anything else. “It’s a fun process and though it’s healthy, it seems more like a treat,” Stevens explains.
Stevens’ own children, 10 and 7 years old, join his classes every Wednesday, and the joy they find within Freshmade NYC kitchens is recreated in their home in the Bronx, where everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets cooking. “We definitely bake and make fun treats… [The kids] make their own eggs, bacon, muffins, fruit tarts,” the dad says of weekend mornings. One of their favorite vegetables is zucchini, which they like to stir-fry or bake into muffins. As a family, they hardly ever go out to eat because delicious food can always be made and prepared in their very own kitchen.
With inviting items like baked quinoa-veggie balls, sweet potato-chickpea sliders, and turkey and cheese pinwheel “pops” on the Freshmade NYC menu, both kids and adults can appreciate the creative considerations that Stevens and his team put into their food. Offering children the best options is often the first step toward improving eating choices. Stevens takes it a step further—he makes developing healthy habits fun.
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