Kids Cooking Classes Take Off At Luxury Resorts

The latest in culinary travel is for people who can't even pay for vacations.

March 14, 2013— -- The latest trend in the upscale world of culinary travel is aimed at people who watch cartoons and have bedtimes.

Call it baking for bambinos. Cooking for kiddos. Gastronomy for the pint-sized. It all means kids are invading the kitchen and in turn, learning more about what they're putting in their bodies and where that food comes from.

In recent months, several upscale resorts have added culinary classes for kids. The Peninsula Beverly Hills has launched the Young Pastry Chefs program where kids take hands-on baking classes with the executive pastry chef. The kids take home a monogrammed chef's coat, apron and chef's hat, and recipes from the day.

Kids as young as 4 can participate in the new "Chef for a Day" classes at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club on Cape Cod. Children collect fresh vegetables from the resort's garden and then head off to the kitchen to prepare their own personal pizzas. Aspiring chefs are also taught about using basic kitchen tools during the lesson.

And this spring, New Jersey's Crystal Springs Resort is launching Culinary Kids at Crystal Springs, which will include a pasta class, a pizza making class and a gelato class. There will also be fishing trips where kids will fish for lunch and weekend farm visits to the resort's new 56 acre organic farm where kids pick and clean vegetables.

"To have the ability to help children learn where their food comes from, how to cook and that cooking is fun, as well as to learn how to eat right at a young age is key to our mission and important to me since I'm a father too," said Crystal Springs Resort Vice President of Hospitality Robby Younes.

The growth of kids cooking programs on vacations is an offshoot of a larger, nationwide trend of healthier eating. Catherine Connors, editor in chief of popular parenting web site Babble, said one of the major driving forces behind kids in the kitchen is "every parent's interest in orienting their kids to healthy eating and good food choices, and involving kids in food preparation is one of the best ways to do that."

Kyle McCarthy, editor of Family Travel Forum, said public figures have also shifted the way we think about kids' food. "Michelle Obama has made a huge difference in the way we think about healthy food and what's in the food we eat," she said. "The impact on the conversations in schools on this topic is huge and vacations are a natural offshoot of that."

More than a third of the children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number has tripled since 1980, a jump attributed, at least in part, to poor food choices and insufficient physical activity.

McCarthy credits Hyatt as being a pioneer in the development of kids cooking classes on vacation. "They were looking for activities adults and kids could do together," she said. "Hyatt developed a program where kids would cook for their parents under chef supervision and serve the food. It was really successful."

Cabo San Lucas' Esperanza, an Auberge resort, debuted it's kids cooking classes last year and since then the program has "grown tremendously." What started with simple cookie decorating classes now includes healthy ways to cook with classes like "Build Your Own Pizza" and "Konfu Panda Rolls."

"In my day it was Play-Doh," said McCarthy. "Now it's sushi."

Esperanza's latest offering incorporates local culture: New this spring, kids can participate in a one-hour class to make and decorate chocolate cascarones, a Mexican tradition of confetti eggs filled with small toys or goodies.

While the majority of resort cooking classes are just an hour or two long, there are a few intensive programs for more serious chefs-in-training.

Blackberry Farm, a luxury inn in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains has one of the more comprehensive kids cooking programs. The inn offers cooking classes all year round through Camp Blackberry where the children pick produce from the garden and even cook over an open fire. Once every year the inn offers "Kids in the Kitchen," a three-day program under the instruction of cookbook author and instructor Helen DeFrance. Kids in the Kitchen will be held Aug. 4-7 in 2013.

The Essex Resort & Spa "Camp Cook" in Vermont offers kids programs ranging from two hours to one week. Kids who participate in the week-long program (which also includes farm visits, swimming and other out-side-the kitchen activities) go home with a book of recipes and a new chef's jacket.

And as long as parents remain interested in food and cooking as aspirational activities, Connors said, chances are these programs will continue to grow. "Foodie parents," she said "of which there are, in the age of the Food Network and Pinterest, so many, are simply much more inclined to want to encourage their kids to be foodies."