At the beginning of every semester I make the mistake of asking my students what we should cook during the semester. Responses vary slightly from:

“Pizza.”
“Pizza.”
“Pizza.”
“Fries.”
“Hamburgers.”
“Pizza.”
“Chocolate chip cookies!”
“Yeah! Chocolate!”
“Chocolate lollipops!”
“Cookie lollipops.”
“Chocolate-chocolate chip cookie lollipops!”

They have quite a varied palette. I don’t blame them. I blame every restaurant with a “kid’s menu” and every “kid-friendly” food that comes with pictures of cartoons and a toy served alongside breaded white food. These suggest a child can only happily eat pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, breaded chicken and chocolate-chocolate chip cookie lollipops.

So every year when I request menu suggestions my students think I’m slightly cruel when someone inevitably requests to make chocolate chip cookies:
“We will never make chocolate chip cookies.”
“But I love chocolate chip cookies! We make them all the time at home!”
“Which is exactly why we will never make them– you already know how.”

I have been accused that the menu I create for my students, which last year included foods like Thai summer rolls, Indian lentil pancakes, nori-wrapped cod cakes, butternut squash empanadas and spanikopita, to be too “adult.” My favored response is a request to provide me the official definitions and listing of “kid food” and “adult food,” and at what age “kid food” turns into just food. The more we think and tell children their food needs to contain extra sugar and salt for them to consume, that it needs to be served on a bun, or with a toy on the side, the less they will stomach food as simple as an apple. (I once worked with a public school where some of the children had never had an apple.)

Inevitably, I have some students every semester who tell me everything we make is “gross.” So I ask, “what do you eat at home?” My two favorite (in the scary sense) answers, one from a kindergartener (who is in my class again this semester as a first grader): “White bread, white rice, white chicken.” The other response from a third grader (who is not in my class this semester): “Chicken nuggets.” I explain that cooking and eating are about exploration. You never know what you are going to like, and while you might not like something in one form, like a tomato, you might like it in another form, like gazpacho. (Which is why our first rule of cooking is to try everything.) In the end, people like the familiar. The more exposure there is to a dish or ingredient, the more likely people are to try it and enjoy it.

The menu I ultimately create for my students is without kid names– there are no Monster Eyeballs or Crunchy Dog Bones, there is no spinach hidden in brownies. If a child realizes he likes spinach, I want him to know he likes spinach. I start by cracking 3 sweet foods into the bowl, toss in a few International dishes, add a pinch of foods I remember fondly as a child, mix with a few suggestions from my students and bake for 19 weeks with a few outliers I think sound delicious, crossing my fingers throughout the process in hopes my students rise to the occasion.

This semester’s menu:

September 29- Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho
September 27- Mint Tea and Cucumber-Apple Sandwiches
October  4- Bean Enchiladas w Homemade Salsa
October 11- ?? – Undecided
October 18- Fatayer
October 25- Candy Apples? Apple Fritters? – Undecided
November 1- Pumpkin Ravioli
November 8- Cheddar Crackers
November 15- Take-Home Pumpkin Bread
November 22- Broccoli & Cauliflower Parmesan Sticks
November 29- Matzah Ball Soup
December 6- Baked Vegetable Egg Rolls
December 13- Whole Wheat Pizza
December 20- ?? – Undecided
December 27- WINTER BREAK
January 3- Corn Mountain Apple Pancakes
January 10- Butternut Squash Knish
January 17- Sweet Potato Sushi
January 24- Take-Home Semester-End Chili

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