Children learning from a cooking instructor during a Kids Cook! class.

Grantee Stories – Kids Cook!

Children learning from a cooking instructor during a Kids Cook! class.

“Eating is a lifelong skill, so if we can inspire families to cook and eat [what they cook] then they can take that throughout their entire lives.” That’s what drives Sara Robbins, Executive Director of Kids Cook!, an organization that provides fun, hands-on instruction to Albuquerque elementary school students on food preparation skills, nutrition, physical activity and maintaining a clean, safe kitchen where they can make their own healthy meals. “It’s about wellness for families—it’s unique,” says Robbins.

Since Kids Cook!’s pilot project at Alvarado Elementary School in 2000, Kids Cook! staff have taught in approximately 50 Albuquerque public schools, reaching more than 45,000 students as well as many volunteer family members and guardians.

Kids Cook!’s success is mostly due to word-of-mouth recommendations, which Robbins is very proud of. “The integrity of the program follows us everywhere we go. I always love it when we are walking through a campus with one of our educators and the kids treat them like a rock star!”

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures, Kids Cook! had to quickly reposition itself and learn how to present its classes online. Fortunately, as a nonprofit organization, it was able to tap into funding that allowed it to provide food for families to participate in the cooking classes virtually. Overall, it donated more than 700 meal kits.

“It was great to see that because we increased our participation seven fold from what it had been in person,” says Robbins. “Providing
meal kits allowed more people to participate, and families could participate where they already cook with their kids—in their own kitchens. When it’s in your setting, and your kids are already there, and an educator is there to guide the process with the whole family, it helps the parents learn how to talk to their kids about cooking and making healthy choices.”

Hosting those virtual classes in the early days of the pandemic proved to be more successful than anyone could have imagined. However, when schools started to return to in-person lessons, there were several issues to overcome, not least of which was finding ways to handle food even more carefully and working together in a kitchen safely.

“2022 was a unique year not just for us, but for all of APS. It was exhausting and there were many hurdles,” says Robbins. “We did have to make modifications, but we knew how to handle COVID precautions and we were able to provide the education we always have in a safe way.”

It was a relief, she says, when they were finally able to go back into classrooms and provide the hands-on education that kids hadn’t had for two years. Since then, the number of families in attendance has grown and the organization has even been maxing out its community cooking events. By the end of the 2022-2023 school year, Kids Cook! was in 14 Albuquerque public schools, and over the summer it will continue classes in Albuquerque community centers and at several camps.