I can’t believe it’s almost been a year! This is the 12th (and final) installment in my Changemaker series. This series has been a very meaning one for me and I have enjoyed sharing some amazing people, organizations and foundations all working in different ways to make positive changes in our world. There really is a lot of good and kindness out there and recognizing that is critical. For me personally, some new and exciting things are coming in the New Year and I’m look forward to sharing more about that with you soon. In the meantime, in the middle of the holiday craziness, I hope you pause for a moment to read about an incredible organization that deserves the spotlight for all that they are doing for our children.
Spoons Across America, is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to “educating children, teachers, and families about the benefits of healthy eating.” This remarkable organization is my featured Changemaker for December, and the final Changemaker in my series. Children and food have been underlying themes throughout my Changemaker series: Dr. Marion Nestle, Jacques Pépin, Jesse Ziff Cool, Second Harvest Food Bank and Chef Bobo are all helping children learn to be healthy eaters. Spoons Across America is one of the only organizations with this as their mission. Former Changemaker and Master Chef Jacques Pépin is a big supporter as well as spokesperson for this remarkable forward-thinking organization. When I reached out to him for a comment about Spoons he had this to say about them:
“There is no better organization than Spoons Across America to
bring children into the kitchen and give them a culinary
education and a better, healthier life.
Our future is our children.” -JACQUES PÉPIN
Pépin is a wise man and I agree with him wholeheartedly. What Spoons Across America is doing is critical. This all began back in 1995, when a group of educators, chefs, and food professionals, led by educator and founder Julia V. Jordan, created a discovery-based curriculum for elementary school children called Days of Taste. This program led to founders to, in 2001, create Spoons Across America: a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating children and families on the benefits of good healthy eating Spoons Across American believes that “the best approach to good nutrition is to encourage children to lift up their spoons, excite all their senses, and taste new healthy foods. [Their] programs actively engage children to use all of their senses through hands-on experience and direct observation ‒ appearance, texture, scent, and taste. Through our programs, children become independent and inquisitive taste-explorers.”
Spoons Across America’s holistic nutrition-based curriculum for New York City public schools 1st through 5th graders is “equal parts academics and hands-on experience and fun” to help empower children to make healthy eating choices. Their programs, Spoons Food Explorers, Farm to Book, Take a Taste with Spoons, Spoons Recipe Days, The Dinner Party Project and Spoons Summer Recipe Days, awaken and inspire a lifelong passion in children to explore smarter, more nutritious, and more diverse food choices.
Spoons Across America is making a big impact, one child at a time. Since 2001, Spoons Across America has introduced, administered, and collaborated on 50+ educational programs in over 37 communities across the U.S., reaching over 75,000 children, teachers and families. In 2019, Spoons Across America will be launching The Food Exploration Project to interested schools, after school programs, libraries and community centers outside of New York City. This 8 session program for 2nd-6th grade children is modeled after their extremely successful 1st through 5th grade program.
If you would like to help support Spoons Across America in their mission and “invest in healthier children“, financial tax-deductible donations can be made here. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Spoons Across America’s Director James Grosso, below are some excerpts from our conversation:
Simmer + Sauce: How did Spoons Across America begin?
James Grosso: In 2001, a group of food professionals created Spoons Across America– a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating children and families on the benefits of good nutrition, healthful eating, and passing along the important traditions of supporting local farmers and sharing meals around the family table. As our founder, Julia Jordan said so definitively, “it was clear that our children were losing the connection between land and their food and we needed to do something about it”. Since then, Spoons Across America has created a comprehensive and progressive approach to food and nutrition education that is implemented in public schools beginning in the 1st grade and continuing s through 5th grade – and in community organizations.
Simmer + Sauce: Your original target was elementary school age kids. Why this age group?
James Grosso: One reason eating behaviors develop in the early stage stages of life. What a child eats, how much to eat, is formed from those around them, both at home and in the school. Spoons Across America’s food literacy and nutrition programs address directly: an absence of institutionalized food or nutrition literacy programs in New York City public schools, resulting in children’s development of poor eating habits that can last the rest of their lives. Studies demonstrate that the eating habits developed in early childhood become the permanent habits of our adolescent and adult lives. The best way to form healthy food and nutrition habits for life is to develop them in childhood.
Simmer + Sauce: Spoons Across America emphasizes the importance of a “family meal.” I am a big believer in this myself. Why do you think they are they so important?
James Grosso: We all live busy lives, and families tend to have multiple commitments between work, school, after-school activities, and just the general “to-dos” of everyday life. Family meals- be they breakfast, lunch, or dinner- give us all time to stop for a moment, spend time together, and connect in a meaningful way. Most of us don’t have time to sit down for a full family dinner together every night but making sure that family meals are a regular part of our lives (even if it’s just a few times a week) is important. Food is a great medium for connection. It helps to create and sustain memories — the favorite foods that we had as a kid that we share with our families, recipes that are handed down, or even experiences that center on food- we learn more about each other, what’s going on in our lives, what we are thinking about, feeling, and experiencing.
When kids eat with their families on a regular basis, they see real food that’s prepared for everyone (as opposed to “kid” food). They are exposed to more sophisticated tastes and flavors, and even if they don’t like these foods right away, parents and older siblings are modeling important healthy (and delicious) behavior. And, when kids participate in meal prep for such meals, they also gain confidence by using real tools, contributing to the family, and being a part of creating a wonderful meal.
Simmer + Sauce: “Home EC” classes were popular in the 1950’s and 60’s for high school students. Have you considered targeting high schoolers?
James Grosso: The Home Economic classes of that era were well-intentioned, but not intended to foster independent thinking about healthy food choices. Today, children need more. Spoons Across America has considered extending our programs to Middle School (grades 6, 7, and 8) children in New York City, but we are first committed to reaching as many younger children as possible to enable them to become independent and inquisitive taste-explorers of healthy foods.
Simmer + Sauce: Spoons Across America’s recipes are healthful and creative. How do they get developed?
James Grosso: Our recipes are designed by our Food Educators and are based on recipes from a variety of sources including members of our Advisory Board. We create recipes that are simple enough for children to be able to prepare on their own or with minimal help from adults. We also purposely create and use recipes that we call a “blueprint.” They are designed so kids can swap out different ingredients for other things they may have in the house, prefer, or experiment with. For example, they can use basil instead of mint, black beans instead of chickpeas, honey instead of maple syrup. We want our recipes to be accessible to all children and families, and to be simple, tasty and nutritious!
Simmer + Sauce: Childhood obesity has become an epidemic. How does your program tackle challenging issue in its program?
James Grosso: Our programs give children the opportunity to explore healthy food with all their senses and give them repeated opportunities to taste both new and familiar foods. We know that children who are more curious about food and more willing to try new foods are more likely to be healthier eaters. We teach kids the tools to prepare their own simple snacks and meals, giving them agency and independence to make smarter food choices. Our programs encourage socialization in the kitchen and across the table and make food prep and mealtime a priority. Our programs also teach children critical thinking skills- how to read and use a food label, how to decipher advertisers claims about food, and then teach them how to choose alternatives to less healthy snacks and treats such as chips, soda, and fast food pizza.
Simmer + Sauce: What is the best way to help support Spoons Across America?
James Grosso: There are a few ways to help support Spoons Across America. One is to volunteer to assist our Food Educators in the classroom. Another is with product donations from businesses both large and small. Lastly, Spoons Across America is supported 100% by donations from individuals, businesses, and foundations. A donation, no matter how small, always helps to bring our programs to more children
Simmer + Sauce: Your programs have reached an impressive 75,000 children to date. What’s next?
James Grosso: In addition to our commitment to bring our food literacy programs to more children in the New York City Public Schools, we are providing nutrition-based programs to after school programs, community centers, and other community-based organizations. We are also very excited about a new program called The Food Exploration Project that will be available to schools and after school programs across America next spring. Till then, you can visit our website at www.spoonsacrossamerica.org to learn more.
When I asked Grosso for a recipe to share, he offered up two healthful, tasty, easy-to-make snacks for kids. Coined “the Dorito alternative,” Spoons Across America’s Kale-itos and Garbanzitos are a great, flavorful alternative to the addictive unhealthy snack food and a great option to have around during the holidays. These addictive treats are made without additives, food coloring and excessive salt, and use nutritional yeast (a deactivated form of yeast that is high in B-vitamins), to add a cheesy taste but is a non-dairy option. When used in their programs, Spoons Across America encourages students to “start by exploring and tasting each spice before measuring and mixing to create the ‘secret’ spice mix….giving them a chance to taste the individual spices and understand how different flavors and textures work together to create the flavors and foods we enjoy“. My kids and I absolutely loved both “itos” recipes, Although we are already kale and garbanzo bean fans, these tasty treats are bursting with flavor and super easy to whip up.
Kale-itos + Garbanzitos
- 1 bunch kale or 1 14-oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of cayenne powder (optional)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside
- Step 2 For Kale-itos, wash and dry the kale. Remove the stems and ribs (the stem in the center of the leaves) and rip the leaves into medium-sized pieces. For Garbanzitos, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then dry well.
- Step 3 In a small bowl, mix together the nutritional yeast, onion or garlic powder, cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt and cayenne powder.
- Step 4 For Kale-itos: Rub the kale pieces with olive oil. They should be coated but not dripping oil. Dip the kale pieces into the seasoning mixture and shake off any excess. Arrange on the baking sheet, making sure there is space between the pieces.
- Step 5 For Garbanzitos: Toss the chickpeas in olive oil, then the seasoning mixture. Remove the chickpeas from the mixture with a slotted spoon and arrange on the baking sheet.
- Step 6 Bake Kale-itos or Garbanzitos until crispy, about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and enjoy.
I would like to thank James Grosso and Spoons Across America for allowing me to feature them in my final Changemaker series installment, it was an honor working with them. Their deep commitment to making children healthier is both impressive and incredibly needed. I would also like to say a special thanks to a former Changemaker, Chef Bobo, from The Calhoun School, who introduced me to Spoons and highlighted the remarkable work they are doing. Both Spoons Across America and Chef Bobo have kid-focused goals to help nurture happier, healthier adults and communities–what could be more important, you are all Changemakers to me!