by Matt Finch
MIDTOWN – Snowfall in Bryant Park turned a celebration of healthy eating into an arctic adventure this past weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Park's CitiPond venue played host to the Kids Food Festival – a free program of cooking classes, hands-on workshops and demonstrations of healthy cuisine.
But the winter weather didn't deter kids or parents from activities like the nutritional scavenger hunt, which sent families racing around the park to collect tips on eating a balanced diet.
Over two dozen stalls offered visitors everything from illustrated recipe books to samples of organic produce – and for anyone who did feel the chill, attendants with backpack-mounted tanks of cocoa provided free hot chocolate.
"The aim is to give children a fun time and their parents the inspiration to support better eating habits year round," said Cricket Azima, founder of the festival, who has been teaching kids' cookery classes at New York's Creative Kitchen since 1999. "It's okay to have a candy bar, just not for every portion of every meal!"
Some young visitors to the festival were eager to explore the world of nutrition – 2-year-old Kai Johnson and his big sister Molly, 4, were more than happy to squeeze avocados in plastic bags for Cricket's "instant guacamole" workshop, then suck on the limes they used to flavor it.
"They pick up a taste for candy and cakes when they go to birthday parties," dad Karl Johnson told DNAInfo, "but they love fish and fresh veggies. It's good for them to explore new flavors."
For less adventurous eaters, Jehangir Mehta, a former "Iron Chef" contestant who runs the East Village restaurant Graffiti, had some tips: "There are ways to get children trying healthier options. Sometimes it's a question of texture, not taste. If your kid likes grilled food, but turns their nose up at boiled asparagus – maybe you should try grilling it instead!"
At Mehta's hands-on demonstration for young cooks, Nya Williams, a 9-year-old-visitor from Washington, D.C., eagerly prepared tortillas with her father as they both followed the chef's instructions. "I eat broccoli…but I really love lollipops," she admitted with a grin.
Sam Talbot, a Montauk chef who also gave a cookery workshop at the festival, said: "It's the old saying – you are what you eat. The way you feel comes from what you put in your body, but healthy eating can still be fun. Kids learn by playing with flavors and textures, getting your hands dirty in the kitchen – I always play with my food!"
The Kids Food Festival is planned as an annual NYC event which will spread to cities including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Find out more at www.kidsfoodfestival.com.
Festival founder Cricket Azima, aspiring chef Keely Jugans, of Gramercy, and Joe "Chef" Johnson flex their muscles before making guacamole at the Kids Food Festival in Bryant Park on Jan. 21, 2012. (DNAinfo/Matt Finch)