Who doesn’t love a teacher? They are tireless. Dedicated. Passionate. Which is why I am thrilled to introduce you to a teacher who is on a mission to help kids learn about and explore real food. Meet #52NewFoods Tastemaker Samantha Barnes, founder of Raddish Kids, rock star mom, and real food advocate.
Raddish Kids is a subscription service that delivers a box of cooking inspiration to your doorstep each month. Yes, Samantha has done the work for you! Designed by a team of teachers, chefs, and parents, this box of goodness mixes math, science, and taste together to create fun activities for you and your kids every month. Her kid-style cooking adventures have been featured in Daily Candy, the Los Angeles Times, Sunset Magazine, and on NPR.
Q. Describe your family food philosophy.
A. I cook healthy, simple, family-friendly meals nearly every night of the week. I really don’t believe moms should be short order cooks; I make one dinner for everyone. And actually, this is something I’ve been doing since my kids were babies, when I made one meal for my husband and me, and turned a portion of it into pureed baby food. And because I’ve always followed this approach to mealtime, my kids don’t expect anything else.
Eating together as a family has its drawbacks—my kids probably go to sleep a lot later than they should, because we rarely eat before 7pm. But as a working mom, I value the time we share in the kitchen and at the table. Even when it looks like a three ring circus. Which it often does—my kids are 2 and 4.
I do my very best to involve my kids in the cooking process. On weeknights, that doesn’t necessarily mean cooking a dish from start to finish with them. But I do try to invite them in for a few tasks: making vinaigrette, prepping green beans, tearing lettuce, smashing sweet potatoes. Both my kids love to be “cookers”, and part of the magic that happens in our kitchen.
Q. What inspired you to create Raddish Kids?
A. In 2006 I founded Kitchen Kid, a Los Angeles-area culinary program for kids. I love teaching cooking to kids through our after-school enrichment classes, birthday parties, and summer camps. But I wanted to be able to empower families everywhere to get back into their home kitchen and make memories with their kids. Raddish does just that: our cooking kits adapt Kitchen Kid’s techniques, engaging lessons, and delightful recipes, and packages them for home kitchens everywhere.
Q. What are your top tips for getting kids engaged in the kitchen?
A. Start them young. Even kids as young as two or three can help prep vegetables, whisk eggs, and measure flour. I think if kids are exposed to cooking early—and involved in the process rather than removed from it—they will naturally learn to embrace it.
Make it fun. Create a scavenger hunt at the grocery store. Raddish provides free downloadable scavenger hunts each month. Conduct a blind taste test with new ingredients, spices, or condiments. Kids love guessing what it is and what color it is! Or watch a cooking show together—then create your own mystery box challenge or live episode!
Give kids ownership. Let them choose a recipe from a favorite cookbook or website. Once they’ve mastered a dish, my daughter “Cecily’s Salmon”, for instance, they’ll want to make it all the time. A subscription to Raddish, which includes family-friendly illustrated recipe guides, kids tools, and fun culinary activities, certainly helps!
Q. What is the most important piece of advice you give to parents trying to change the way their families eat?
A. You said it best, Jennifer! “If your kids are going to eat it, then make sure they peel it, squeeze it, chop it, or dice it!” It is definitely true: kids who help prepare their food are much more likely to eat what they’ve made. Giving kids the chance to participate in making meals—letting a 4 year old crack eggs, an 8 year old make pancakes with a special berry compote, or a 12 year old create and cook a complete dinner—almost always guarantees a win. Cooking can be a beautiful form of expression, and kids take real pride in cooking something for their family.
I also think serving food family style, letting kids choose their portion and serve themselves, takes some of the pressure off a tenuous family dinner. Lastly, parents need to model adventurous eating habits. Nothing is worse than hearing a parent proclaim, “my daughter is a picky eater—she definitely won’t eat that!”
Q. What did your family get out of The 52 New Foods Challenge?
I love the way The 52 New Foods Challenge encourages families to appreciate and value a single, in-season ingredient. In the section, “Let Kids Lead”, Jennifer reminds families to explore a new food in all of its glory, rather than just rushing to prep, cook, and eat it. What does the skin feel like? Does the flesh inside look and feel differently? How can you describe this food’s taste? Does the taste change when you cook it? What shape is the food? Does the way it grows (vine, tree, underground) influence its shape? Edible education is such a simple, powerful, and important gift we can give our children. The 52 New Foods Challenge reminds us that it takes just an hour a week to set this framework for a lifetime of health and wellness.