Califonia Bountiful

Kids in the kitchen

Sept./Oct. 2011 California Country magazine

Shaun Hill, left, and brother Lance get some hands-on cooking time with uncle Michael Poompan. The Long Beach chef prefers interactive ways of teaching healthy-eating concepts to kids.

One minute, they're engaged in imaginary swordplay with colorful stems of Swiss chard. The next, they're huddled intently at a cutting board, carefully slicing the vegetable for its next stop in a sauté pan.

Meet Shaun and Lance Hill of Upland. They're 10 and 9 years old, respectively, and they're doing exactly what their uncle would like more kids to be doing: getting hands-on and excited about food preparation.

To that end, Michael Poompan—chef of the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel—conducts regular food demonstrations at local schools and farmers markets, sometimes with nephews Shaun and Lance as his assistants.

"When I was a kid, I only ate meat, potatoes and corn on the cob. I wasn't about to try anything new," Poompan acknowledged. "So I tell kids during my demos, the reason that I'm there is that hopefully they will change their minds sooner than I did."

Exposing children early to fresh, healthy food choices is a key, the chef said. So is getting them actively involved in planning and preparing meals.

"Learning to cook is the first step in making healthy decisions in life," he said.

Poompan's culinary outreach to kids takes many forms, including participation in Chefs Move to Schools, a program run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture in which chefs partner with local schools to promote healthy eating and exercise.

While few—if any—of Shaun and Lance's peers cook, the brothers say it's a skill people of all ages can and should master.

"Some adults don't know how to cook and look at us. We're kids and we know how to cook," said an enthusiastic Shaun, with brother Lance adding, "It's fun!"


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