Young volunteers like Lauren Kraetschmer (right) get their hands dirty creating a meal at a recent Kids Cook To Care event at the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre. The monthly meals are meant as an outlet where kids can develop social skills while preparing meals for their community, founders Jill Lewis and Julie Levin say.

Kids connect through cooking

Lauren Kraetschmer delicately cuts up vegetables into bite-size pieces for a bubbling pot of soup. She also stirs sizzling Bavarian sauerkraut decked with peaches. But her favourite part of dinner preparations are the breaded dumplings.

“It was funning chopping them up and making them into balls,” she said.

The eight-year-old sports a big smile as she crumbles slices of bread, then rolls them out and drenches them in syrup. Lauren clearly enjoys the build-up to creating this unique German dish.

Nearly 100 children and parents have come out for the Kids Cook To Care community meal at the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre on Bloor Street West. KCTC is a charitable initiative, encouraging children (six to 16-years-old) to learn about different cultures through the art of cooking foods with the assistance of a professional chef. The children are also learning the importance of giving back to their community.

The founders of KCTC, Jill Lewis and Julie Levin, conceived their idea while on an apple-picking field trip with their children three years ago. Lewis, with her experience as a publicist in New York, combined with Levin’s expertise as a caterer in Tokyo, got together to create an outlet through which children could develop social skills while preparing meals for their community. Lewis said they decided to use foot as a uniting factor.

“Food is a great connector,” Lewis said. “It bring kids of different ages and skill sets to a kitchen where no matter what their background is or exposure to cooking. It’s something that they contribute to the creation of an ethnic based meal.”

Levin added that the concept has life-long learning value.

“It’s something that’s generational. We’re giving them a very multicultural education,” she said.

The result at the neighbourhood centre was that parents and children enjoyed their breaded dumplings with ham and sauerkraut. It was all cooked by the supervised children.

Lewis believes when children volunteer it builds their sense of self-esteem and promotes family growth.

“It’s our hope that we increase the awareness of the importance of having a family meal at home for the volunteers… that they’ll go home, take the recipe and make the meals with their family and friends and serve and care about the people that they live with too,” Lewis said.

With their monthly community meals a success, the founders of Kids Cook To Care seek to expand their services across the GTA as well as in Halifax, Vancouver and event Seattle, Wash.

Lewis believes, given that food is such a common thing, that people around North America will relate well to her initiative.

“Food is kind of a universal language. It’s spoken no matter where you come from,” Lewis said.