Exploring Nourishing Eating in a S.H.E. Cooking Class of Young Girls and Their Mentors

Chef Nancy helps S.H.E. program mentor Erin Huston chop leafy greens.
Above, I’m working with mentor Erin Huston, an eating disorder awareness and body positivity advocate.

We had such a great time exploring the joys of nourishing eating with a group of 11-year-old girls at a cooking class* for the S.H.E. program hosted at St. John’s Presbyterian Church!

“The goal of the S.H.E. (Self-esteem, Health, Emotions) program is to teach girls about healthy nutrition, show them how to care for themselves physically / emotionally / mentally / spiritually, provide them with positive coping mechanisms, and improve their self-worth and leadership skills.”

Jessica Ferroni, Christian Education Director, established the S.H.E. program in early 2014 and hosts bi-annual events for groups of young girls. Jessica told us, “S.H.E. is all about empowering young women and helping them live their best lives.” Tree House Kitchen LOVES this! That is why we volunteered! We believe whole foods lessons, learning essential culinary life skills and bringing joy and creativity into the mix of nourishment help fuel strong, happy and resilient girls. All of this intertwines with the S.H.E. focus on self-esteem, changing emotions, healthy coping strategies, nutritious eating, exercise and self-care. The girls had a further lesson in leadership, passion and ministry from Jessica and mentors. With help from Tree House Kitchen staff, they prepared and cooked hands-on these delicious whole foods recipe systems:

  • Perfect wild rice, brown rice with freshly ground cinnamon and aromatic Thai jasmine rice with lemongrass and lime leaves
  • Herb-rubbed roast chicken with roasted vegetables in chicken jus
  • Make-your-own vinaigrette station with mixed green salad, spice-rubbed croutons, Ontario apple slices and bonus herb-and-lemon quinoa cakes
A group of 11-year-old girls choosing from sample ingredients in a S.H.E. cooking class.

At Tree House Kitchen, we consider our work done when everyone fully engages in their own exploration! I discussed the importance of getting away from the recipe mindset and into an “explore, instead of chore” mindset. One young girl commented that cooking should be “FUN!” We added our heartfelt and resounding “YES!” to that sentiment. The girls got the opportunity to pick up a chef’s knife for the first time and learned how to chop rosemary safely. They excitedly chose from sample ingredients and created their vinaigrettes. They asked questions while doing so but primarily relied on their intuition and sense of taste to make unique, delicious dressings for their green salads. In groups, they also made signature herb rubs for croutons. We love watching this sense of exploration and growth of confidence through cooking!

A Tree House Kitchen staff member teaches two 11-year-old girls to safely chop rosemary in a S.H.E. cooking class.

In this S.H.E. cooking class, we also taught the HUGE difference between bottled and freshly ground spices. After using a store-bought coffee grinder to grind cinnamon sticks, the girls wondered what to do with the leftover cinnamon. Our brown rice became an aromatic cinnamon brown rice thanks to their creativity!

As we sat to eat, a young girl told us, as she happily munched away on her large portion, “I don’t usually like chicken, but this is really good!”

Erin Huston, an eating disorder awareness advocate, excitedly joined in on the culinary exploration. She then gathered the girls to speak about eating disorders, self-love and body positivity. Erin is the co-creator of a blog called eatingdisorderconfession, an online pro-recovery community. She is also an active student at St. Jerome’s University, where she introduced the body positivity week, “SJYouAreBeautiful.” After the class, Erin shared that she “had the most AMAZING dinner at the S.H.E. program tonight, learning from the incredible @chefnancyhenley!!” She added, “Seriously, though, like the entire ride home, I was thinking about how I didn’t even know rice could be that delicious…”

Close-up of written comments from girls who participated in the S.H.E. cooking class, such as 'I learned a lot of new food and tricks for cooking skills!'

*Update: We’re so proud of our work in our hands-on teaching and dinner party classes, but we no longer offer classes. We hope you enjoy reading about our past classes, and our new direction as a food literacy company specializing in problem-solving skills and resources for busy families and community members—like you!

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