With obesity and diabetes on the rise, it’s now more important than ever to ensure that even preschool kids start thinking hard about what it takes to make healthy food choices.
Short, informative videos, hosted by Puprika the puppy chef, spark healthy food-oriented conversations in the classroom and the dining room, engaging teachers and families in discussions about where food comes from and how food touches our lives in so many ways.
In the first episode, for instance, Puprika explains how food connects us all by talking about noodles, a perennial favorite food, with kids in New York (mac n’ cheese), Japan (ramen noodles) and Italy (spaghetti). At the end of this short video, Puprika concludes “Kids from all over the world love eating lots of the same thing,” a message about how we’re all connected and how we all eat and enjoy the same foods, prepared in ways that reflect our different cultures.
Other Food Thoughts episodes feature talking apples and carrots who explain how they come from the ground before they’re shipped to grocery stores; another focuses on a talking tomato seed who overviews how the plant grows, with the help of soil and the sun (both of which have speaking roles).
Each episode of Food Thoughts presents an easy-to-understand message through the humorous voices of Puprika and others, leaving kids with a clear idea of where healthy food comes from and how what we eat connects every one of us.
The Food Thoughts video series was developed by WTTW in conjunction with Pilot Light, an organization founded by Chicago Chef Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, which opened in 1999 and was in the vanguard of the farm-to-table movement, and Marisol at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Hammel’s restaurants have been recognized by the Michelin Guide, and Hammel himself was a James Beard Best Chef Great Lakes Finalist and recipient of the 2019 Jean Banchet Chef of the Year.
Joining Hammel is Chef Paul Kahan, a partner at One Off Hospitality, a leading Chicago restaurant group, internationally acclaimed for Blackbird, avec, The Publican, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats, Dove’s Luncheonette, Publican Quality Bread, Publican Tavern O’Hare, Big Star Wrigleyville and Café Cancale. Kahan was named Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2013 and Best Chef of the Midwest in 2004. Justin Large, who has worked with Kahan at several of his restaurants, joins him on the team.
Chef Mathias Merges, the third chef on the Pilot Light team, worked for the legendary Charlie Trotter before founding the award-winning cocktail bar Billy Sunday, craft brewery Old Irving Brewing, restaurant Mordecai, cocktail bars Hush Money and Spindle, and brewpub Lucky Dorr.
The Pilot Light board of directors, along with a staff of educators and industry professionals, provides insight and guidance to the chefs as they work to create holistic food education programs for the home and school. With teachers from pre-kindergarten through high school, Pilot Light helps deliver lessons that illustrate the connection between food and traditional academic subjects like math, science, reading and history. Since 2010, the Pilot Light program has steadily grown to engage more than 15,000 students — and their families! — in Chicagoland and around the country.
The Food Thoughts series is also supported by Cooking Matters, a campaign of Share our Strength. Since 1993, Cooking Matters has been helping families and caregivers make healthy food choices, even on limited budgets.
Together, WTTW, Pilot Light and Cooking Matters present Food Thoughts in conjunction with Electric Black Experience, a company that advocates for healthy living and social awareness through innovative educational programming.
“Pilot Light’s partnership with WTTW and Cooking Matters allows us to bring food education into a family home in a way we’ve never done before,” says Katharine Colvin, Pilot Light’s vice president of education. “Through Food Thoughts, children and their families will have access to holistic food education in an exciting, easy-to-understand way.”
At WTTW, Head of Programming Lisa Tipton says, “We are excited to launch Food Thoughts in partnership with Pilot Light to provide the very youngest members of our community with information and resources around healthy food and healthy living.”
Food Thoughts is funded by Cooking Matters. Megan Bradley, national senior manager of food skills education for Cooking Matters, tells us that “We are educating families with skills to shop for, prepare, and eat healthy food at home. The Food Thoughts video series does just that.”
With young people heading back to school, and food-oriented holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving approaching, this is an excellent time for kids as well as grownups to catch episodes of Food Thoughts — and start thinking about how the food we eat connects us all and how good eating habits can make an enormous difference in our lives. New episodes of Food Thoughts run weekly through November on WTTW 15, and they will be streaming online.
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David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded LTHForum.com, the 15,000 member food chat site; for several years he wrote weekly “Food Detective” columns in the Chicago Sun-Times; he writes weekly food columns for Wednesday Journal. He has written extensively about the culinary traditions of Mexico and Southeast Asia and contributed several chapters to “Street Food Around the World.”
David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca.