“Chef, yuckkkkk. Dis-gus-ting. Totally gross! “ That, says Chef Kashia Cave of My City Kitchen in Meriden, is how a just a few of the elementary school students in her class reacted after a cheese tasting. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she continues. “They began running out the kitchen pushing each other trying to get to the bathroom because they wanted to (a) throw up, (b) brush their teeth with their fingers, and (c) drink water to get the taste out.” As if that wasn’t a bad enough of a reaction to her effort to get these kids to try healthy, different foods, she also heard one student cry out “Goat cheese, like a goat? Goat cheese? NEVER again in my entire life would I eat that nasty thing.” And that, she says, was just the beginning of her quest to figure out “How do I get my students to eat different foods, without them making an exodus to the bathroom?”

Kashia Cave
My City Kitchen
384 Pratt St.
Meriden, CT 06450
(203) 630-2870

When asked to give her advice on how to get finicky kids to eat healthy, Chef Kashia Cave responded quickly and enthusiastically with “Right up my alley! I deal with this weekly!” Chef Kashia (as she prefers to Chef Cave) does more than just “deal with this” issue – she has made it her mission. A graduate of the Lincoln Culinary Institute of Connecticut as well as Italy’s prestigious Culinary Institute for Foreigners, Kashia Cave could have become a chef at any number of top-rated restaurants. Instead, she chose to start up a non-profit place of her own, My City Kitchen, where she dedicates herself to teaching teens and even younger children not only how to eat right, but also how to shop and prepare healthy, affordable and enjoyable meals for themselves and their families. Although classically trained, much of what she knows and teaches she learned quite literally at her grandmother’s apron strings in her native Trinidad.

The Great Blind Cheese-Tasting Experiment

Before delving into tips for helping children learn how to eat right, Chef Kashia wanted to share a true story that lets parents know that even professionals have a tough time of doing just that.

As she explains, cheese is good food, but many children have never been exposed to good cheese – or even real cheese. Chef Kashia tried to correct that with one group of young kids, and here is how that went:

“I had this cool idea to do a cheese tasting with my 6-9 year old students,” explains Chef Kashia. “We started the class as usual: They washed their hands, and put on their aprons, and the questions came rolling out. ‘What are we making today?’ and ‘What’s all that stuff on the table?’ I explained, before we made our dish that we’re going to taste different types of cheese. I had the cheeses in order of numbers, unidentified by name. They were going to do a blind taste test. My instruction was to explain the following: the texture, taste, did they like it or not and would they try in again. And so the tasting experiment began.

“First up: ‘It’s soft and mushy’ said half, and that half wanted to add sugar to make it taste better. Then I made the big reveal… that was ricotta cheese. ‘Ok, it’s alright,’ they said.

“Second cheese: ‘Oh, oh I know this one, I saw this at the grocery store with my mom,’ one student yelled out. I said ‘Don’t say it out loud; let’s have everyone taste it first.’ Then the verdict came in. ‘We like this one better,’ ‘It’s good,’ and ‘We’ll eat it again but not too often…’ That was fresh mozzarella. Thumbs up in the air. I can mark that on the shopping list. One point for Chef Kashia. I’m thinking to myself, I’m going to give myself a pat on the back, feeling optimistic. I continued on with the taste test: cheddar cheese, followed by pepper Jack. They loved those.

“Next, parmesan cheese. ‘That was great.’ ‘Hard and salty.’ We like this one a lot.’ Feeling super confident. I introduce the final cheese, which I was wary about. ‘Oh which one is that?’ one student asked. I said ‘Try it and tell me if you can guess what it is.’ Another student said ‘That’s cream cheese you eat with your bagels.’ Let’s all try it together at the count of three. 1, 2, 3…. I told you guys it was cream cheese. ‘It’s delicious, I ate that at my school for breakfast. My mom has this at home in strawberry flavor and it’s very good. WE LOVE IT!’ Then my students looked at me for confirmation. With a big smile on my face, I said ‘Actually, that was goat cheese.'”

Reinforce the Positive

Saying something is bad for you to a child doesn’t always help. Instead, says Chef Kashia, when you see them eating something that is good for them, tell them so. “Take every opportunity to build communication with your child,” she says. “ Start with a simple icebreaker. Example: Oh my, my. Look at you eating that banana. Good for you. I read that bananas are high in potassium. Did you know that? Wait for a response. Then you can say – ‘I was happy to know that potassium helps sustain your blood sugar levels, which gives you energy. They make you alert, and that helps you stay focused in class.’ Reinforce positive praise – ‘YOU ARE ONE SMART KID for eating that banana.’ Then give them a very enthusiastic HIGH FIVE!”

Make Choosing Food Educational – and Fun

A lecture about what food is good for you rarely works with kids. Instead, suggests Chef Kashia, “visit a farmers market and pick up some items. Take them home and do a few taste testings. Try a different ethnic food once a month. I never thought my children would eat sushi! Spring is around the corner. Try growing some vegetables. Then at harvest time, use the veggies to make a delicious meal for your family.”

Involve Kids in Planning and Cooking Meals

Most kids like to cook – once they have been invited into the kitchen and are shown how, says Chef Kashia. “Have them help you plan the menu while you offer a guideline as to what needs to go into the meal. Also tell them that they have to try one new food that’s healthy. This gives them a sense of independence. They feel important because they had input into the decision making.” When you go grocery shopping, she adds “take your child with you. Walk around the fruit and vegetable section. Ask them questions about what foods they are looking at. Get a feel of what peaks their interest. Promise them next time they visit the store that they can pick up something from the section and you both can make a dish at home as a cooking experiment. Kids never forget a parent’s promise, and they are always up for an experiment.

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Hide the Fruits and Veggies in the Meal – and Be Creative

Many children just assume they will not like certain fruits or vegetables, or balk at being told to eat them. Chef Kashia Cave’s suggestion? “Hide the fruits and veggies in the meal. For example, add veggies to their favorite fruit smoothie drinks. Use a food processor and blend the veggies together with lean ground meat. Season it well. That makes great patties for your burgers, or mix some cheese into it for a great stuffing for a pasta dish.”
Sometimes “you have to be creative,” to get kids to try something new. “One student said to me, ‘Chef Kashia, I can’t eat mashed potatoes and avocados. I’m allergic to it.’ My reply was ‘REALLY, your mom didn’t list this on your food allergy list. Let me call her.’ Then he said, ‘I don’t like mashed potatoes and avocados, but I can eat French fries and guacamole.’ Then I got it. He did not like the texture of the mashed potatoes and whole avocados. As a parent or guardian, you have to find creative ways to cook food. Great example – If they are not going to drink a smoothie, try turning it into mini popsicles. Make it fun and enjoy discovering your child’s taste buds.”

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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.