Chef Nancy Henley working with mentor Erin Huston who is an eating disorder awareness and body positivity advocate.

Exploring Nourishing Eating With a Group of Young Girls and Their Mentors

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.”

Photo above: Chef Nancy Henley working with mentor Erin Huston who is an eating disorder awareness and body positivity advocate. 

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 and 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 helps fuel strong, happy and resilient girls. 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.  

Along with my Tree House Kitchen staff, we all prepared and cooked hands-on these delicious whole foods recipe systems:

  • Perfect wild rice, brown rice with freshly ground cinnamon, 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

At Tree House Kitchen, we consider our work done when everyone is fully engaged in their own exploration! I spoke about 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!” and we add our heartfelt and resounding “YES!!!” to that sentiment. The girls were given the opportunity to pick up a chef knife for the first time, and they learned how to safely chop rosemary. The girls excitedly chose from sample ingredients and created their personal vinaigrettes. They asked questions while doing so, but in the end they mostly 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 exploration and growth of confidence through cooking!

Tree House Kitchen teaches young girls to safely chop rosemary.

We also taught them the HUGE difference between bottled and freshly ground spices. After using the spice grinder (a store-bought coffee grinder) to grind cinnamon sticks, the girls asked what to do with the leftover cinnamon. So, our brown rice recipe became an aromatic cinnamon brown rice thanks to their creativity! As we sat to eat, a young girl told us “I don’t usually like chicken, but this is really good” as she happily munched away on her large portion!

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

I learned a lot of new food and tricks for cooking skills! Comments from young girls in cooking class.

Update: We’re so proud of the work we’ve done in our hands-on teaching and dinner party classes. Working with you, our clients has played such an important part in the new direction of Tree House Kitchen as a food literacy company, specializing in problem-solving skills and resources for busy families, and community members – like you! We hope you enjoy reading about our past classes, and also where we’re headed moving forward. 

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