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Hot meals for kids, made with love from scratch

May 28, 2019

Here’s some good news: The opening of Kids Kitchen, a project based at the United Way Early Learning Center at Kaune, and now expanding with support from the Food Depot.

How refreshing to see see two respected agencies teaming up to improve both the quantity and quality of food offered to children in Santa Fe County. It’s a common criticism of nonprofits that they won’t collaborate. That’s not true at Kids Kitchen.

Soon, the kitchen won’t be serving only students enrolled in preschool, about 75 this spring, as well as children attending the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Fe/Del Norte. Starting this summer, food made in the kitchen also will be sent all over Santa Fe County, too, through the Food Depot’s Lunch Box Express program. That program begins June 3 and is an important part of making sure children who were receiving free or reduced lunches during the school year don’t go hungry when classes are out.

When it’s up and cooking, Kids Kitchen will be serving around 800 kids each weekday — with a goal of 1,000 and then more — with meals prepared from scratch by executive chef Adonais Esquibel and his team. As Esquibel told The New Mexican’s reporter Dillon Mullan: “I’m happy to be leading this charge for healthy, home-cooked meals. Out of this kitchen, you know what’s in your food.”

For Sherry Hooper, executive director of the Food Depot, the opportunity to partner with Katherine Freeman and others at United Way meant the meals her group delivered would be healthier and better tasting. Before, many meals served through the Lunch Box Express were prepackaged. Kids might not have gone hungry, but they also weren’t learning the best eating habits.

With fresh meals at school and delivered to the sites around Santa Fe — where kids eat free, no questions asked — children will learn to appreciate good food, well-cooked. Esquibel has vowed there will be no fish sticks or chicken nuggets, either.

The kitchen also promises to be a training ground for future chefs, with recent high school graduates who want to cook already being put to work. Eventually, the kitchen hopes to partner with culinary arts programs at local high schools and Santa Fe Community College to provide experience to the great cooks of the future.

We can envision, too, families using the kitchen to improve their own cooking skills so they can eat fresh-cooked food at home, rather than relying on fast food. People who don’t know how to cook won’t cook; it’s too much when people are tired after a long day’s work. But such skills can be taught. Children can come home and ask for a dinner just like the great lunch they had at school; we have learned that with Cooking With Kids over the years. When prompted by their children, parents can ask for recipes and menus and perhaps even a few lessons. Together, families will begin to cook and take control of their health.

All of that is how we fight hunger, and not just the hunger that comes from lacking enough to eat. Serving healthier meals fights the lack of nutrition so many American kids experience because of our overdependence on fast or processed foods.

At the kickoff for Kids Kitchen last week, the menu featured pork sliders, potato salad and loads of cut up fruits and vegetables — which, judging from kids eating around the tables, were greatly enjoyed. The buns were fresh, made from scratch; no one will be tossing these away.

A meal to tempt the pickiest eater: It happened because of collaboration, a willingness on the part of two essential organizations to find a way to fight hunger and improve nutrition for kids — together.

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