The first steps to getting kids to love healthy foods for life lead to the kitchen. This Q&A with Aparna Pande reveals how her company, Kidstir, encourages kids to measure, mix and understand the value of nutritious meals.
If there is one ingredient often missing from the kitchen table, Aparna Pande thinks it might be adventure. Fortunately, she has a kit for that.
Pande is founder and CEO of Kidstir, a kind of cooking club for kids that sends cooking kits – with themes such as taco truck and teacher gifts – to its subscribers. Designed to educate kids about food as much as stimulate creativity in the kitchen, each kit includes (among other items) three recipes covering all food groups, some games and two kid-appropriate cooking tools, such as a mustachioed kitchen brush or molds that turn sandwiches into puzzle pieces.
Pande, a mother of 7-year-old twins who previously held leadership roles at Mattel Inc., Disney and the publisher Meredith (FamilyFun and Parents Magazines), created Kidstir not only to ensure kids are healthy eaters, but also to nourish their relationships with food. Parents, of course, are crucial to achieving this.
“It’s important for us to love good food and keep on loving it, focus on the long game, and kids will pick up and internalize the positive cues over time,” she said.
Following are edited excerpts from our Q&A with Pande, which includes the frightening event that led to the creation of Kidstir, her ingredients for success and the necessity of food adventure.
Vegy Vida: What is the story behind Kidstir?
Aparna Pande: When my children turned one, I followed the recommendations of my pediatrician by introducing nuts into their diets. Both immediately suffered anaphylactic shock to the tiniest bit of walnut. It was very scary in the moment, and also distressing when I thought about the long-term implications. I was so sad to think my children might have a fearful and limiting relationship with food. I started thinking about how I could teach them about food and cooking so they could feel empowered and confident (and) making choices that were safe, healthy and delicious for themselves.
VV: How would you describe the relationship between the average kid and veggies?
AP: Anytime something is new – food or otherwise – it is scary. It is that way for adults too. Our family is traveling to China this summer and while I love all the Chinese food I’ve eaten in the West, even I am a teeny bit nervous eating food that I don’t completely understand or am familiar with. So, if kids haven’t been eating veggies often and trying new ones regularly, they will naturally be intimidated by what’s in front of them, and that often manifests as rejection.
VV: What can parents do?
AP: Parents can play a big role by repositioning the idea of new experiences as adventurous and fun, rather than intimidating and scary. This goes beyond food – and kids are looking not only at the direction that comes from parents, but also at parents as role models. When parents have a positive, adventurous, happy and healthy way of approaching food, kids feel encouraged, too.
VV: What is your blue-sky goal for three years out?
AP: I’d love for this next generation to understand the importance of real, fresh food. And I’d love for Kidstir to be part of that positive educational experience for lots of kids and families!
VV: If you have to break Kidstir down to five key ingredients, what would they be?
AP: Fun, educational, family, memories, yummy!
VV: Let’s mix those ingredients up. Describe is the Kidstir experience.
AP: Kids (and their parents or grandparents!) love getting their Kidstir kits. Cooking together with our kits is a time to make special memories with each other while gaining important life skills!
VV: What is in a Kidstir kit?
AP: Each kit is themed around a cookbook chapter, like breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc., and contains step-by-step recipes, foodie learning, kid-size cooking tools and games and activities. We include shopping lists also, emailed ahead of time so families can dive into the cooking projects when the kits arrive. Recipes are hole punched so that kids can collect them in the special cookbook binder they receive at the beginning of their subscriptions. Month after month, kids gain important life skills and build their own cookbooks!
VV: How many members do you have?
AP: Many thousands of kids and families have cooked with Kidstir kits since we launched a couple of years ago.
VV: If you could change one thing about the way kids eat, what would it be?
AP: It’s sad that it has to be so, but parents have to teach our kids that marketing is not the whole truth. We have to make them educated and savvy consumers because whether we like it or not, they are being marketed to. I had to explain to my own kids just yesterday that eating a piece of fresh fruit was far better than eating “healthy, organic, GMO-free, made-with-real-fruit-juice” gummies yesterday.
VV: When it comes to the future of our kids, what motto do you live by?
AP: Let’s spark a love of good food in our kids!
We couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Aparna, and Kidstir!