Budding Taste Buds

Preschoolers harvest and cook their way to a broader palate.

Preschoolers are picky eaters. They eat only macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders and peanut butter and jelly, right?

Wrong, say a growing number of early-childhood experts. But children can become narrow eaters if they lack positive experiences with fresh, healthful and diverse foods. Stone Barns Center's new Little Cooks and Gardeners Program is just the ticket to open up their food horizons.

Preschoolers are at a pivotal stage when they are beginning to form their preferences and tastes. Experts have found that between the ages of 2 to 5, children are developing eating habits and food preferences that can stay with them for life. New parents of preschoolers, too, are ready for advice and ideas. They want to serve diverse and nutritious food, but it can be difficult to navigate grocery store labels and trends, and to think up ideas for easy, healthful meals that they can enjoy with their children (as opposed to separate meals for grown-ups and kids).

We launched the Little Cooks and Gardeners Program last year to expose children ages 3 to 5 to the delights of discovering and preparing new foods in a farm setting. Classes are also designed to give parents the confidence to cook with their children. In each class, preschoolers and adults harvest vegetables from the greenhouse or garden, participate in a farm chore and learn to cook simple things together such as bread, vegetable soup and frittatas.

Sometimes it’s a tool, like a rocking mezzaluna knife, or a new science experiment, like butter made from hand-shaking cream, that can capture a child's imagination and open him or her up to new foods. “When a child harvests a carrot, brushes off the soil and savors right there in the field the sweet and crunchy goodness, you can see instantaneously the impact it has on her understanding and appreciation of good food,” says Jennifer Rothman, Programs Director at Stone Barns.

Thanks to high praise from past participants, we are offering a slate of new Little Cooks and Gardeners courses this year, beginning in February. Each class accommodates 15 children, plus one parent or caregiver per child. For more information and to register, click here.