Healthy Choices

Mini-chefs use green ingredients at Pizza Rock

Simon Cran, 4, tastes a piece of pizza he made himself during Pizza Rock "kids in the kitchen" class Saturday. The class gives kids ages 5-10 a lesson on "healthy pizza" with the aim of getting them used to cooking for themselves, and making cooking fun.
Simon Cran, 4, tastes a piece of pizza he made himself during Pizza Rock "kids in the kitchen" class Saturday. The class gives kids ages 5-10 a lesson on "healthy pizza" with the aim of getting them used to cooking for themselves, and making cooking fun. The Sacramento Bee

Simon and Teddy Cran said no to ham and bacon on their personal creations Saturday at Pizza Rock. They opted instead for onions, peppers, olives and, in 4-year-old Simon’s case, several heaping fistfuls of mozzarella cheese.

The brothers, raised on mostly vegetarian diets, joined a small group Saturday at the downtown Sacramento restaurant Pizza Rock, where children ages 5-12 learn the tricks of the trade and get a taste for healthy toppings in the Kids in the Kitchen program.

Samantha Jones, 8, dunked her hands into a bowl of flour and ran it between her fingers as host Jason Hall explained the ingredients in a pizza crust.

“It feels like sand!” she exclaimed, spreading it over the table to prepare the surface for stretching the dough.

Cindy Jones, mother of Samantha and 5-year-old Lilly, and Jenny Garces, mother of Simon and 9-year-old Teddy, decided on the class as a Christmas present for their children. The two friends were looking for a more active alternative to toys, Jones said, and Lilly wants to be a chef when she grows up.

Garces said cooking and healthy eating are big in their house, where the boys help prepare snacks and salads.

“They like to be in the kitchen,” Garces said. “It helps them stay away from the TV, and it’s a good math lesson as well.”

A 2014 study from the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior found that culinary experiences improve children’s attitudes about cooking, increase their ability to follow directions and boost preferences toward fruits and vegetables.

Amber Stott of the Food Literacy Center, a Sacramento nonprofit focused on healthy eating, said pizza is the perfect place to start when teaching early cooking skills because it’s “a vehicle for vegetables” but still a familiar food.

At Capitol Heights Academy in Oak Park, where the center started teaching food literacy two years ago, instructors start with the basics and swap out poor ingredients for healthy ones, say a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with fresh fruits instead of processed spread.

“Making those little switches when you first start getting kids excited about cooking is really important,” Stott said. “You'll eventually be able to feed them brown rice and kale salad. You can’t start with that, but keep switching things out and eventually it’ll sound as amazing to the kids as pizza.”

The Kids in the Kitchen program strives for a similar goal by introducing kids to natural ingredients, said Pizza Rock manager Michael LeVasseur. The veggies are fresh, the dough is made in-house and the meat is imported from Italy.

Whether they realize it’s healthy or not, the youngsters always have fun, he said.

“Kids and pizza just seemed to make sense. It’s like a big ball of Play-Doh, except you get to eat it at the end.”

The class, which started shortly after the restaurant opened in 2011, is held Saturday mornings at a cost of $10 per child and benefits Loaves & Fishes programs for the homeless.

After stretching out the dough and making a few glorious attempts at tossing and spinning, the Saturday pupils loaded their bases with toppings. Simon made a smiley face out of vegetables. Samantha and Lilly shaped their crusts into hearts.

Within minutes, the pizzas were out of the oven and on the table. Teddy gleamed in approval as he reached for his first slice.

“It was a really cool experience,” he said. “But it ain’t as easy as it looks.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

Kids in the Kitchen

What: A pizza-making class for children ages 5-12

When: Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Pizza Rock restaurant, 1020 K St., Sacramento

Information: Call (916) 737-5777 to reserve a spot

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