How I Started My Cooking School for Kids

Michelle_CatTreats_SF07webWhen people learn that I own a cooking school for children, they almost always say, “Oh, you are a chef.”  And I always jump in and correct them, “No, I am a teacher.”   To me, chefs are artists – creative people who get inspired by raw materials (forgive the pun) and transform them into something wonderful and delicious.  An excellent chef, in my opinion, will inspire people – to try new flavors, taste the foods of different cultures or maybe even to cook more at home.  But me?  No, I am not a chef.

I try to inspire people too, but not through the food itself.  I am a teacher – and my craft is intended to motivate.  My goal is to inspire families to open fewer packages and cook a little more.  My goal is to build the confidence of our children so that they will taste new foods and have a hand in their creation.  My goal is to help children recognize what it means to eat real food, grown by real farmers.  My goal is to encourage families to  applaud their children’s efforts to be involved in their food choices…and listen when the kids ask them to consider the environment when they shop.  And my goal is to empower kids to help those who need it – all through the power of food.  Feed the Hungry.  Feed the  Sick.  Feed the Homeless.

It’s hard to imagine that a girl who dreamt of becoming a veterinarian would end up running a certified green cooking school for children.  Yet, here I am.  What was the path that took me here, you might be wondering?  I’ll see if I can trace the route – but I am horrible with maps…

I’ll start with college, I suppose.  When that all started, I had every intention of becoming a vet.  But then calculus and organic chemistry happened.  I almost didn’t survive, but scraped by and graduated with a degree in Biology.  I specialized in animal behavior and behavioral ecology, and spent much of my time outside, studying red tailed hawks and elephant seals (I am a Banana Slug, and proud of it!).  After college, I spent 3 months studying monkey mating behavior on a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico (yes, I do have lots of interesting stories about that, but they aren’t appropriate for this family-friendly blog!).  It was really interesting, but made me realize that I wasn’t cut out for spending time alone with nature.  I wanted to share it and tell people why they should care.

And so my career as a teacher was born.  I went back to school to get my teaching credential, and then spent the next 5 years as a high school biology and environmental science teacher.  I loved it – and my students and I enjoyed learning and exploring together.  We gave workshops to local elementary school students and seniors in local residential facilities.  We got grants to build a native plant garden and pilot a worm composting project.  And we encouraged the entire school to begin recycling paper.  It was amazing.  And satisfying.

And then I started a family of my own.  I didn’t see how I would have enough energy to parent my own children AND teach 150 students a day.  So, I stepped away and spent a couple of years focusing on my babies.  But it wasn’t enough.  I craved more interaction.  I wanted to teach again, but needed something flexible.  So I did something I never thought I would do.  I signed up to become a Pampered Chef consultant.   It was a perfect opportunity for me at the time, since it would allow me to use my teaching skills and combine them with my love of cooking.  I was able to cook for wonderful groups of people and teach them tips on how to save time and money in the kitchen.  I was determined to inspire families to cook and eat meals together.  But most of all, I was determined not to be pushy or do anything that might perpetuate some people’s negative stereotyping about the direct sales industry.  I must not have been too obnoxious because I sold over $100,000 in Pampered Chef products, and had a positive experience in the meantime.

About halfway through my experience with The Pampered Chef, my friends started to encourage me to do more workshops with children.  Others complained that they would go insane if they had to go to another gymnastics birthday party again.  Bink!  A the lightbulb went off.  What if I could do cooking parties for children?  And so it began.  I put together a horrid website, registered a domain name (I can hardly believe I had a “.info” site for so many years. Ick.) and then started to let people know what I was doing.  I was absolutely shocked when I got my first gig – but had to pretend like I had done these parties hundreds of times before. I brought the ingredients and tools to the home of the birthday boy – and we made our lunch.  It went off without a hitch and has picked up speed ever since.

My classes are now offered through several local recreation centers and are in 8 of our local after school programs.  I am not teaching these after school classes anymore, since I want to spend time with my own children (aka – being their chauffeur!)  But I adore the people that I have hired, and have fun developing the curriculum that we use each semester.  I still enjoy doing birthday parties and love doing Speaking Engagements where I talk to families/schools/after-school programs about cooking with kids.  Now I spend most of my time writing, developing curriculum, social networking (is that even a verb?), and cooking with children for special events that benefit the less fortunate.  I am fueling my passion by inspiring children to be confident and help others.  Life is good.

What about you?  How did you get to where you are today?

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29 Responses to How I Started My Cooking School for Kids

  1. Gin says:

    Michelle – You are such an inspiration on many different levels. For moms with small children that want to encourage them to try new tastes and for moms who want to start their own business. I really enjoyed your story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Michelle Stern says:

      Thank you Gina. It’s nice to have supportive friends like you who are cheering me on. I’m here to do the same for you!

  2. Nicole says:

    LOVE your story! You are so inspiring! I hope I can make the switch to do something that includes cooking and nutrition in the (near)future ! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Melissa says:

    What an awesome post! So glad to hear your story. I would love to jump in and do the same thing here in Kentucky. I am currently a Health Promotion Specialist working with adults but want to do more! Thanks again for all that you do on your blog. I enjoyed being part of the Cooking with Your Kids posts.

  4. I am so glad I found your website today (through Stephanie Stiavetti). I love the work you’re doing. Working with children to learn to love good, healthy food is just SO important. Thank you for doing this important work.

  5. What an amazing story Michelle. You are doing incredible work with these children. I really think that if children are introduced to all kinds of healthy food early on then they are more likely to choose healthy foods later on. Keep up the great work, you are a real inspiration to others. You are making a difference.

  6. k.moan says:

    Good job. I think your site is one of the best out there for cooking with kids. While many sites have kids as a side project, your efforts in the kitchen (and on the web) put the little ones up front. I like that. Thanks for all of your work — past and present.

    k.

    • Michelle Stern says:

      Wow – thank you so much! To be honest, I had hoped that my work came across that way, and am so relieved that it does for you. I am so grateful for your comment!
      xo
      Michelle

  7. Amanda says:

    I still think you are a chef… but I agree… you are definitely a teacher. An excellent one at that!

  8. Michelle, so great to learn how you came to inspire so many children to enjoy healthy food. It’s been a treat to get to know you through Twitter!

  9. naomi says:

    I love your passion and I’m sure that’s why your classes are such a success. Aside from inspiring kids, you inspire me as a mom.
    For a baker, I am lucky my son is a healthy eater. He actually isn’t too fond of sweets (except candy) for the most part he loves veggies and fruit. Given that, I love reading your blog and finding ways to keep my son on a healthy eating path-because as we all know eating habits form early. While it’s never too late a good start is just so much easier than trying to redirect habits later on.

  10. Tracy says:

    You are such an inspiration! Thanks for sharing your story!

  11. Loved reading more about your journey that led up to the cooking school! Keep up the great work… You are an inspiration to us all!

  12. Lacie Harris says:

    I LOVE your story! I love it possibly for selfish reasons because it is similar to mine. :)

    I’m a (currently) part-time 2nd grade teacher in Bakersfield with the city school district. I have a toddler and love to be able to sacrifice financially to stay home with her…even if just part-time. I’ve always wanted to open my own kid’s cooking school in my neighborhood, but never knew how to get started so I left that dream on the shelf.

    Recently, I’ve joined forces with a green manufacturer of personal/home products and now I educate families on how to convert their homes to better, safer products.

    Would you be willing to come to Bakersfield???

  13. joan says:

    am a teacher too and love kids. I thought of teaching kids to cook and i saw your sight keep it up and i hope to help the kids in ma country too

  14. Aisha says:

    What a wonderful story! I am so glad you shared with us. I’ve embarked on a similar journey and I am even more inspired to succeed by your story.

  15. Lori says:

    I was surfing the web for some inspiration and I found it! Thank you. I taught cooking in the school I teach at now and unfortunately when we got a new school the cooking program was cut because of the design of the new kitchen. I was so disappointed and so were the children. Since teaching kids to cook, both of which I am passionate about, is my goal and opening a cooking school for kids is something I want to do. I teach cooking at a summer camp also. I own a mobile spa party business for little girls and was thinking if mobile cooking parties for kids would work too and thanks to your story I think I will forge ahead with my plans to do just that. Thanks for the inspiration of your story!

  16. Victoria Rose says:

    Hello my name is vicky i am in culinary art progroms. My intrested is to teach children/adults basci cooking skills. I think it is great that you teach classes, please give me some feedback on how to get started or be some help to you in running a cooking business.
    Thank you Mrs Rose

    • Michelle Stern says:

      Thanks for writing Vicky. I do some consulting for people in your situation, although now that I am back in the classroom, my time is limited. Be sure to look at the consulting page on this site for more information.

  17. jen says:

    Hi,
    I am reading your journey on what you have achieved and I read and think oh my god this is me talking!!!
    I have just started up as well my own kids cooking school and I love it my aim is to inspire and excite kids/people to cook and realise that not all food is pie-packaged.
    Just enjoy it so much I was previously a hairdresser/mobile hairdresser/worked in a cafe as a waitress!! then married have a wonderful Husband and two beuatiful children and are farming in NZ great life and seeingothers inspired by my cook school is great love to hear from you,Jen

  18. Renee says:

    OMG this is exactly what I have been wanting to do! Is there things that you had to get done legally before you started?

    • Michelle Stern says:

      I think that the regulations depend on your state and country. In many cases, you can sell your services as a teacher much more easily than you can sell food that you cook for others – so the insurance issues may be different for each situation :-) I highly recommend getting liability insurance, which is challenging when you tell the insurance agent that you are working with a combination of kids, ovens and knives! Good luck!

  19. Jacqueline Foster says:

    I would like to learn more about hoe get own childern cooking school.

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