That is how Martin Yan opens up his cooking class before a group of twenty children assembled to tape a segment of an upcoming show featuring cooking with kids. An unusually sober remark to make at the beginning of a children’s program — especially from Yan, known for his whooping energy and manic knife skills. Yes, the whole “starving kids in Africa” (feel free to substitute China or India, if you like) was a familiar reprise during my childhood, but I don’t think I’ve ever uttered it.
If the other members of the studio audience at Cucina Bambini in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood are anything like my kids, they probably aren’t used to that hard-line style of dinner table politics. My own feeding philosophy has been heavily influenced by Ellyn Sattlers Feeding With Love and Good Sense, which encourages parents to provide kids with healthy foods, but ultimately allow the youngster to make their own decisions about which parts they will eat.
Yan’s philosophy is a little different.
Yan starts warms up the crowd with a demonstration of his cleaver prowess, turning an English cucumber into a butterfly and a heart of paper-thin slices. Then he gives the kids lettuce leaves to tear, and offers them a variety of veggies he’s julienned, to make Chinese chicken salad. The shrimp Yan smashes with the side of his cleaver gets mixed with ground pork and seasonings, and the kids fold this filling into won ton wrappers. Leftover vegetable strips are thrown into hot broth, along with the won tons, creating healthy balanced meal. My plant-based-foods-challenged six year-old child heads up to the front counter in search of a bowl of soup, but alas, the pot runs dry before he can get a taste.
Afterwards, I ask Yan for some tips on how to get picky kids to eat their veggies. For a man who’s been doing a TV cooking program for 30 years, he is remarkably trim (weighing in at just a few pounds more than some people, who will remain anonymous!)
“Never separate the meat from the vegetables,” Yan intones. Other tips:
- Lots of different colors, textures
- Mix stir-fried veggies with noodles, rice
“That’s what i did with my kids,” He says.
And of course, I can’t help but ask the 64-thousand dollar question, “Did you ever force your kids to eat vegetables?”
Yan answers with an emphatic NO, saying the most important thing is for kids to get exposed to a variety of different flavors, not just cheeseburgers.
I guess I’ll be making some vegetable won ton soup in the near future.