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Pint-Sized Gourmets Cook It Up with Chef Poppy

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Ed DeSouza, a.k.a. Chef Poppy, is creating some serious fun for pint-sized chefs. His cooking classes are tailor-made for today's generation -- which definitely needs a kick-start when it comes to developing healthy eating habits. Chef Poppy'ssecret? A dash of creativity and a lot of flavor.

Chef Poppy and Me
We sat down with Chef Poppy to talk about his classes (offered at the North Valley YMCA in Los Angeles), which make healthy foods accessible -- and crave-worthy -- to tweens and teens.

momlogic: So aside from teaching these super-cool classes, you have your own health-food company, too, right? Tell us how you got started.

Chef Poppy: My partner, Jesse Katz, is a degreed nutritionist. I go by the name of Chef Poppy and am a retired chef and also a nutritionist. Together, we started a small nutrition-based food company called HealthFULL Foods. Our goal is for kids and their families to understand that you can eat almost anything as long as it is prepared with the right ingredients, and also that we have to eat in moderation -- kind of like having your cake and eating it, too.

An example is our banana-nut mini muffins, prepared with products we have developed -- such as "canolive butter," a special blend of olive oil, canola oil and butter. We also developed a special blend of non-nutritive plant-based sweeteners (stevia, xylitol, isomalt). And we only bake with organic whole-wheat flours. Whenever we can, we use our fiber blend (a blend of wheat bran, oat bran, wheat germ, flax meal and chia seeds). When people taste these muffins for the first time, they cannot believe they are a healthy [alternative] to store-bought muffins.

ml: Tell us how you got the idea to teach a cooking course for kids.

CP: I have a 9-year-old granddaughter that I have been cooking with for years now. Kids are influenced so much -- between the media and school -- with their food choices, and unfortunately, obesity and other major health problems are at an ultimate high right now. This class is [designed] to inspire families into cooking and eating a healthy diet, and to do it together. We also want the children to feel comfortable in the kitchen and form cooking skills to help in their future.

I was the "classroom dad" for my granddaughter's first-grade class, and the teacher asked if I could make some cookies for Valentine's Day. I wanted to make the cookies as healthy as possible, but still make them taste great. So I started to experiment with ingredients and methods of baking cookies. I came up with a formula that I was happy with, so on Valentine's Day, I took the cookies to class -- and the kids loved them. When I stopped by the classroom later that week, all the kids had written me letters thanking me for the healthy cookies. All the letters were addressed to "Chef Poppy," and that was the start of my idea for the cooking classes for kids and their parents.

ml: You're also helping the adults in the community get access to healthy food through the YMCA. Tell us how.

CP: For five years now, we've hosted Member Appreciationat the North Valley YMCA.They used to just put out bagels and cream cheese. I told them that is not healthy food a gym should be serving, and said I would volunteer my time to take over this event.Jesse joined in the last year, and we show up and serve breakfast. Breakfast is 14-grain pancakes with fresh-made flavored syrups, smoothies, banana muffins and zucchini muffins (made with whole-wheat flour, natural sugars and our fiber blend). Then we return later in the afternoon to serve lunch. Lunch is always a different soup. This month is regular chili and a vegetarian chili, smoothies, hummus, whole-wheat pita chips we bake, mango-avocado salsa and other spicy salsas, cornbread muffins, banana muffins or chocolate cake.

On this day, all members of the YMCA receive our food for free, and we volunteer our time. We are happy to be there to spread the word of our products and class, along with being available to our community to help guide them with their nutritional needs.

ml: What would you say to moms who are discouraged about picky eaters?

CP: Oh boy, there are ways to sneak those veggies in! We add veggies to everything -- for example, soups, meatloaf, frittatas. We believe in low-processed sugar/high-fiber diets, so in all of our baked goods, we use whole-wheat flour and plant-based sugars that release slowly into the body as sustained energy. One of our products is a fiber blend that is a combination of the right proportions of great fiber and omega-3 sources. This fiber blend is put into all of our baked goods and sprinkled in anything else when we can. For example, the kids love our granola, muffins and cakes. We just made chicken nuggets for one of our classes, and we added the fiber blend into the breading on the chicken.

ml: Is there a trick to getting kids to eat healthy?

CP: Let them help you at the grocery store and at home. Our class is their practice kitchen so they can be ready to cook at home. We let all the kids cut, and we give them lots of options when it comes to ingredients. When they start to get comfortable with the knife, they keep cutting, then just keep adding ingredients to their meals. One kid never eats spinach or mushrooms, but he loved them in his omelet. We encourage them to try something new, because they could be missing out on a new favorite. When they do the work, they are more likely to try their creation.

ml: Are the kids in your course surprised by how good healthy eating can taste?

CP: Yes! We just did summer camp for the YMCA schools, and those kids ate everything:whole-wheat mac n' cheese, whole-wheat pizzas, chopped salad, meatloaf ... and we made our 14-grain pancakes.

Want to try one of Chef Poppy's ultra-easy and super-tasty recipes? Check out the banana-nut muffins or the mango, avocado and black bean salsa!

next: The World's Most Spectacular Pools
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