NEWINGTON – Just as her class was about to begin cooking one recent morning, 2-year-old Claire Perrault announced, “I like pasta.”
This incited giggles of excitement from fellow toddlers and teachers alike at Family Tree Childcare and Learning Center. Chef Richard Webber smiled at the youngster and inquired how exactly, she liked her pasta.
“With pesto?” he asked.
The preschool’s toddler class then proceeded to assemble a recipe Webber calls “Chicken broccoli pasta bake” – which they would later bring home to enjoy with their families.
It’s not a dish on the menu at the Rooster Company, where he works as Sous Chef, but it was the right pick for this group, according to Webber.
“This recipe is very approachable,” he explained. “It’s something I’ve made at home before.”
That would have meant his daughter Marlowe, 2, had eaten it at least once before she joined her classmates in the cooking workshop led by her dad. Marlowe was one of eight children who took part in the morning’s activity, which began with tying on tiny aprons and ended with eight tinfoil pan suppers.
“I think this is awesome,” Family Tree Owner Jean Sutton whispered as Webber continued the lesson. “They are going to bring this home and bake it with their parents. That makes it really special.”
Daycare Director and Sutton’s daughter Chelsea walked around helping the little ones and taking pictures to send to parents. Each had a big bowl and a long-handled spatula to combine ingredients, which had been chopped, cooked and prepared for them by the chef. The casseroles were topped off with mozzarella cheese and breadcrumbs before each received a top and was stowed away in the refrigerator for the remainder of the day.
One of the lessons Webber wanted to impart on the group was about nutrition. Although the kids wouldn’t have known, he said; the chicken was non-genetically-modified. Plus, broccoli packs a healthy punch.
“This is a wholesome meal. Cooking with kids is important from a nutritional standpoint and it helps them understand that good food is possible.”
Webber also pointed out that making meals is a chance to work on valuable life skills.
“Being able to follow steps, replicating what the instructor is doing, patience and focus are key when it comes to food.”
For parents hoping their toddlers will join them in the kitchen, Webber recommends recipes that lend themselves to stirring, layering and building. Macaroni and cheese, lasagna, meatballs and cookies are just a few suggestions.
The demonstration was one of several activities during the center’s Community Week. Claire’s father visited the next morning to show the class his work gear, as a firefighter for the Bristol Fire Department.
There are currently 26 children enrolled in Family Tree. Registration is open for infants and kids up to 5 years old.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or firstname.lastname@example.org.