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Raising a foodie: kid-friendly cooking classes in Pittsburgh

Mandy Fields Yokim
October09/ 2015

Remember feeding our babies new foods like green beans, bananas and butternut squash? Each time, we waited in anticipation for their response. Would they like it or hate it?

As parents, we hope that our children will enjoy the foods that are good for them—the foods that help them grow into healthy adults. While there are no guarantees that our kids will always make the best food choices, we can point them in the right direction by teaching them about the benefits of eating well and providing plenty of age-appropriate chances to get involved with planning and making meals.

Fortunately for us, Pittsburgh offers many hands-on options for inspiring kids to appreciate food and build lifelong cooking skills. From schools and libraries to grocery stores, community resources and summer camps, this article presents you with a guide to some of the best kid-friendly cooking classes in Pittsburgh.

Children's Table, Photo courtesy of Children's Table
Children’s Table, Photo courtesy of Children’s Table

Cooking Schools

We start with Gaynor’s School of Cooking on the South Side because they offer a wide variety of cooking classes for kids. For the youngest foodies, there are the Mommy (or Daddy) and Me classes for ages three to five, which introduce easy-to-make recipes like yummy dips. For those who are more experienced in the kitchen, Gaynor’s offers classes in bread, pasta and pierogie making and seasonal classes like the Kids Thanksgiving Feast. And for the super dedicated kid, Gaynor’s offers a five-week Kids “R” Cooks series and a Teen Cooking Program.

Crate Cooking School, Photo courtesy of Crate
Crate Cooking School, Photo courtesy of Crate

Next, the Crate Cooking School in Greentree hosts monthly classes for kids. While there are more traditional options like Pizza Party and Spaghetti Dinner, Crate also offers creatively themed classes like the upcoming seasonal Trick or Treat, Breakfast for Santa, Luau Party and Valentine’s Day Tea. Most classes run for 2.5 hours and are best for kids ages six and up. Some classes also are designated just teens.

Chop, WOK and Talk! is a small cooking school on Penn Avenue that focuses on ethnic cuisine from around the world. Owner Dorothy Tague’s philosophy is very inclusive for kids. “I find that they are usually a step ahead of the adults. We treat them like one of the gang.” For this reason, she doesn’t offer kids-only classes. Children age eight and older can just attend any class on the schedule with a parent for half-price. Children age 13 and older can attend on their own as a full paying student. Class options include Asian Appetizers, French Baking and Moroccan Dinner.

Looking for classes to inspire your preschool and young elementary-aged children? Most classes at Children’s Table Cooking on the North Side are open to kids ages four to eight. Through hands-on cooking classes, even the youngest children can learn about the value of good nutrition and food safety in the kitchen. Parents or caregivers attend these Mommy and Me-style classes where kids prepare three recipes in a 90-minute class, an ideal class length for the developing attention span of young children. Upcoming options include Plentiful Harvest, Elfin Magic and Santa’s Helpers.

Food markets 

Learning about vegetables at Market District, Photo by Nadine Champsi
Learning about vegetables at Market District, Photo by Nadine Champsi

At the Giant Eagle Market District Cooking School in Robinson Township, kids can choose from a variety of classes with hands-on instruction from store chefs.

Each month a different themed class is offered for three age ranges: Small Fry for kids five to eight, Tween Chef for kids nine to 12 and Teenagers in the Kitchen for kids 13 to 17. All classes are held in the state-of-the-art kitchen which has multiple cooking stations stocked with everything you need to prepare something tasty. Upcoming classes include Fall Baking, Movie Snacks and Halloween Treats.

Want more grocery store options for kids? The new Fox Chapel Market District offers monthly cooking classes for kids and both McGinnis Sisters and Whole Foods offer the occasional cooking event for children. Also make sure to check out the Whole Foods parents and kids webpage, which is filled with delicious recipes, nutrition tips, meal planning ideas and helpful videos.

Retail Stores

Williams-Sonoma, a specialty store known for its gourmet cookware and home furnishings, has three locations in the Pittsburgh area. Did you know that each store hosts monthly Junior Chef classes for kids? And they’re free! In the on-site kitchen, instructors teach kids how to make yummy recipes for main courses, desserts and snacks. Look for the upcoming Little Chef class called Make Dinner for the Family, suitable for kids ages eight to 13.

If your child enjoys the creative aspect of decorating sweet treats, inquire at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store or Michaels for kid-friendly options including upcoming Halloween-themed classes called Very Hairy and Scary Cupcakes and Candy Corn Characters where students use buttercream icing to learn a variety of decorating techniques.

Kayla Younger learns how to make sauerkraut with special guest Fermentation on Wheels during a Youth Cook workshop
Youth Cook Workshop at the Children’s Museum, Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum

Museums and other community resources

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh maintains a wonderful garden that allows visitors to learn about various edible plants and flowers. Look on the museum’s events calendar for seasonal classes about gardening and cooking with fresh ingredients. The Cook It! series encourages families to prepare delicious recipes through interactive cooking demonstrations which often incorporate items from the museum garden. The Youth Cook! series for kids ages 10 and older brings in guest chefs to teach basic kitchen skills through yummy recipes like roasted butternut squash salad, banana pancakes and salsa.

Youth cook workshop at the Children's Museum, Photo courtesy of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Youth cook workshop at the Children’s Museum, Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Phipps Conservatory occasionally offers kids’ cooking classes as part of a broader theme of learning about how plants and vegetables make it to our plate. This fall, Phipps will host an Evening Ed-venture: Fun with Food session for kids ages 6 to 9. While parents enjoy an evening out (date night!), children will be learning about food through crafts, games and cooking activities. For healthy shopping advice at the grocery store, try the Green Light Foods phone app developed by Phipps (in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University students, Red House Communications and Wahila Creative) through the Let’s Move Pittsburgh program.

Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley often hosts kid-friendly cooking classes for a variety of ages. Upcoming options include making veggie wraps and smoothies in the Kitchen Basics: Make My Own Lunch class and hearty soups from seasonal ingredients in the Kitchen Basics: Soups class. Festive options for the holidays include making dough from scratch to build and decorate Gingerbread Houses.

Lastly, always check local YMCAs and libraries for cooking classes that are often free or low cost. The Sampson Valley YMCA in Plum recently expanded to include a fruit and veggie garden and teaching kitchen, which hosted kids’ cooking classes over the summer through a partnership with a local restaurant. The Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers Kids Cook classes that teach students how to chop, measure and cook basic recipes. The Allegheny library branch offers similar What’s Cooking classes where students go beyond chopping and learn how to dice and julienne vegetables.

Camp Delicious, Photo courtesy of Luminari

Summer camps

For the really passionate kids who dream of hosting their own Food Network show, try one of these awesome summer camps focused on the culinary arts.

Camp Delicious is a thoughtfully designed summer camp for teens ages 12 to 17. During the weeklong day camp students focus on the journey food takes from “earth to plate” by taking field trips to local farms and markets. Under the guidance of dietitian and nutrition consultant Leslie Bonci, the teens will learn how to take fresh ingredients and turn them into a healthful meal in the kitchen.

The Harvest and Create Camp through Union Project takes students into the garden to learn about sustainable farming and ultimately into the kitchen to learn how to cook meals with fresh ingredients. Along the way, students get into the clay studio and learn how to craft their own ceramic plates and bowls which are used to serve the farm dinner they prepare at the conclusion of this two-week day camp.

Mondo Italiano Cooking Class, Photo by Mondo Italiano
Mondo Italiano Cooking Class, Photo by Mondo Italiano

Mondo Italiano offers campers the chance to learn about Italian culture and language through its cooking classes. These half-day camps have included making mozzarella, pasta and pizza.

Chocolate Camp at Country Confections Chocolates in Canonsburg is a four-day camp for kids ages 4 to 12. Students learn all about making the delicious candy through different hands-on projects throughout the week.

Look for other cooking camp options at the Waldorf School, Winchester Thurston, Sweetwater Center for the Arts, Phipps Conservatory and Gaynor’s School of Cooking.

Pittsburgh is full of amazing people and organizations who care about educating the next generation of little chefs. We hope this guide is a good resource for your family as you guide your children toward an adventurous palate!

Featured photo: Camp Delicious, Photo courtesy of Luminari

Mandy Fields Yokim

Mandy Fields Yokim is a nationally published writer and editor based in the Pittsburgh area. Her work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Blue Ridge Country Magazine, NEXTpittsburgh, Kidsburgh, TEQ Magazine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and nearly 20 parenting publications across the United States and Canada. Her blog posts have appeared online at Pittsburgh Magazine, Kid World Citizen and Wonderaddo, the global education initiative she founded in 2013 to encourage kids and families to explore the world in Pittsburgh. She is contributing editor of regional books such as Grit, Smoke and Steam, Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh.