PORTLAND, Ore. — A food bank program in NE Portland is launching a first-of-its kind food box program to help kids learn to cook.
"The recipes are healthy and fun for kids," said Linda Schlechter, director of Crossroads Food Bank.
Every Tuesday, dozens of volunteers pack boxes at Crossroads Church and distribute them to families who drive up.
The new Healthy Eats 4 U 2 program (HE4U2) provides containers of ingredients and kid-friendly recipes to make a snack or meal. Each week, children receive a cooking utensil that goes with the task.
"It doesn't just teach kids healthy recipes, but also how to follow instructions, [and] how to budget because it shows all the food cost," Schlechter explained.
The learning tools don't stop there.
"Hi guys, my name is Chef Aidan!" proclaims five-year-old Aidan Walthinsen in an online video. "Today we're making Power Crunchies!"
Aidan and his parents help Crossroads by producing short videos, demonstrating how a real child can make the food provided in the kit.
"Don't let the leaves touch each other or they won't get crispy," Aidan advises, organizing pieces of kale on a cooking sheet.
For him, kale chips were a hit.
"When they start cooking, they will eat what they cook," Schlechter said.
Volunteer Dee Burns agrees. Her love of cooking began as a child when her aunt taught her to cook an egg.
"Now with the pandemic, kids can't go to school, a lot of kids aren't getting food," Burns said. "[With this program], hopefully when they grow up, they'll have a love of cooking, too."
Crossroads Food Bank provides binders for kids to save their weekly recipes, each illustrated with the help of a graphic designer.
"It's the first—that I know of—program of its kind in the country for kids," Schlechter said.
In the program's first few weeks this summer, it has served more than 200 children. It's funded in part through Nourishing Neighbors.
Schlechter hopes this is just the beginning. If she can raise more money, the program can reach more children.
"I'd love to extend it to the Boys and Girls Club," she said. "Even go beyond that, it would be great if we could extend it to elementary schools."
Families can pick up the cooking kits on Tuesdays at Crossroad Food Bank.