For 10-year-old Jamari Tompkins, cooking and gardening are more than just fun activities that bring him closer to his family – they give him a strong foundation to grow on!
An active 4th grader, Jamari’s been an enthusiastic participant in all of the gardening, cooking and nutrition activities Solid Ground offers at Leschi Elementary School, including afterschool gardening and cooking clubs, nutrition education in both his 3rd and 4th grade classrooms, and summer food education programming.
Most recently, he completed a Cooking Matters for Families 6-week course, which he took along with his mother, Angela. In these classes, parents and kids learn food hygiene and safety skills, prepare recipes together, receive nutrition lessons related to each menu, and then get to enjoy the results of their labors.
A family tradition
“I honestly really love to cook and garden!” Jamari explains, “I did a lot of cooking and gardening with my grandmother during the summertime.”
He’s been gardening with her as long as he can remember in their Central Area backyard, where they grow peppers, tomatoes, collard and mustard greens, radishes and more – and he says his favorite part “is when you get to pick the food off and you realize that you’ve grown it.” They also frequently cook together, traditional southern recipes his grandmother learned growing up in Arkansas. You could say cooking and gardening are the heart and soul of their family life.
In addition to bonding with family, the classes he’s taken have helped Jamari learn new skills. As it turns out, he’s a bit of a picky eater: “Some stuff I really just don’t want to eat,” he says. And whether or not he likes a dish himself, he always takes some home for his grandmother.
But at a recent class, hummus, veggies and turkey tacos were on the menu. Having made and tried hummus once before in his nutrition ed class, Jamari was excited. “The hummus was a-ma-zing!” he says. “You can taste it. If it’s not something you would actually enjoy – if you need more spice, more seasoning – you can be creative.” He also learned the important role hummus plays bringing protein into your diet.
Stretching outside their comfort zone
Since taking these classes, Jamari’s mother Angela sees a change in how he eats at home. “He’ll honestly try foods more.” They have a new rule where “you try things three times before you say you don’t like it.” Jamari sighs, “I honestly don’t like trying things three times!” but Angela praises him, “I know you don’t, handsome, but you do now! You didn’t before, right? So that part has been helpful with him trying new foods!”
Where hummus is concerned, he admits he didn’t think he’d like it until he made it. “Before then, I never actually ate hummus; we never bought it either.” Angela concurs, saying that previously, there were “different foods that I would never buy if I’m out at the grocery store, shopping on my own. So it’s definitely making me experiment outside of my comfort zone and try new things.”
Angela says, “I feel like I learned a lot. I knew how to cook and do other things before, but now I know the proper way so that you really don’t hurt yourself.” To Jamari she says, “You learned how to cut, too, to hold the knife and do what with your fingers?” Jamari demonstrates, molding his hand into “a claw shape – like this,” keeping them out of the way of the blade so you don’t accidentally “cut your fingers.”
They also learned to pay more attention to nutrition labels to better understand the nutritional value of different foods. Angela says while she previously knew the differences between good and bad fats, she would “just buy stuff based on how I liked it – I never honestly took the time to look at it before. Now I’m like, ‘OK! Let me actually look at what we’re about to eat. Does it have high corn syrup in it? What kind of saturated fats? What’s the calcium or vitamin C percentage in it?’ I definitely look at it now!”
Growing good energy
Through it all, Angela has seen her son grow in confidence and leadership. As an experienced gardener and cook, he naturally steps in to support younger students. Angela says, “I feel like he gets a lot of social skills from mentoring other kids. He’s always wanting to go help – if they’re confused about reading something or what they should put in there next, he’s really good about going over: ‘That’s OK, let me help you,’ or ‘We should try it like this.’ Definitely a positive change and a lot of good energy in his attitude.”
Angela describes Jamari’s teamwork blending hummus with a younger classmate, Theo: “I think Jamari was holding it and Theo was holding the button?” Nutrition Education Instructor Kelly Shilhanek agrees: “That was problem solving and sharing at the same time!” Theo and Jamari sniffed the various spices, added some more, reblended it, then tasted the result together – repeating until they got it just right.
Jamari gets fired up when you ask him about spices – one of the new things he’s learned in cooking classes. “Spices are stuff that you use to season things. I was surprised that you could actually spice up hummus! I think my favorite spice would be garlic powder, ‘cause you can really sniff the garlic powder. When you taste stuff, you KNOW if you put too much” because it “takes over all the other spices!” To fix it, “add more of the other seasonings that you have, mix it, and get even again.”
Jamari says “the different things you can make” are what excites him most about cooking. “I think it’s good because you get to learn all these new recipes – and you can take recipes home. His advice for other kids thinking about cooking and gardening? “Just try it, and see if you like it!” Jamari says the coolest thing they made in his very first class was Apple-Pear Crisp. His grandma had given him a toaster oven for his birthday – “a small one that you can take on the go,” he says. So he brought it in to class, and “we cooked the crisp in it! Everyone was getting slices of it, and I just took it back home.”
There’s a big change on his family’s horizon: His grandparents are preparing to move back south. It makes Jamari a little emotional to talk about it, but he looks forward to visiting them during the summertime, “so then we can cook and garden together a lot.”
And Jamari and Angela agree that they’re going to continue to cook together more and carry on that family tradition. Angela says, “His favorite vegetable to eat is greens, so I’ll be making a lot of greens. And what else, broccoli? And green beans? Definitely a lot of those.”
Now when he cooks, Jamari says, “It makes me feel happy because I really like to do it! I think it’s my favorite thing to do – because when I’m cooking, it reminds me of cooking with my grandmother.”
NOTE: Jamari would like people to know a few more things about himself: He loves to go to church (also with his grandmother) – and in addition to cooking, his other favorite thing to do is act in plays. He played the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz” last year and will play the Beast in “Beauty & the Beast” at Leschi on May 4!