Next Monday, January 15, is Martin Luther King Day, and you can help celebrate MLK’s southern heritage – and keep your children profitably occupied for the day – by enrolling them in the holiday-themed cooking camp organized by Sugar Beet Schoolhouse and Cheryl Munoz, the organization’s executive director and founder, and one of the founders of the Sugar Beet Food Co-op on Madison.

The menu for this MLK event will be selected from the cookbooks of Edna Lewis. Recognized as one of this country’s most influential chefs, Lewis was an early champion of regional cuisine and farm-to-table eating, earning an international name at time when there were few well-known female or African-American chefs. Using her recipes, supported by readings from a children’s book called “Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis,” children will learn to appreciate – and prepare – foods from the southern tradition.

“When kids cook a new food themselves,” explains Munoz, “they’re more likely to eat it — or at least try it. They may not eat all of it. They may not eat any of it. But over time, they will get comfortable with it. We are practicing the “growth mind set.” In our kitchen, if a child says, “I don’t like this!” I ask them to add ‘yet’ to that sentence.”

Children in the cooking camp will be preparing several of the downhome foods favored by Lewis and chronicled in her writings. “Lewis’ cookbooks have a wide range of recipes, but she is famous for her apple pie so that was an easy choice,” says Munoz. “Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens are staples of the soul food table. While mac ‘n cheese and fried chicken are items many kids have had and love, I also want to challenge them with collard greens. Introducing a new food is easier if there are also a few familiar foods. When I make collards at home, my kids fight over the ‘pot liquor’ [the dark liquid that remains in the pan after cooking greens]. I trust our students will find something on the menu that they love and want to make at home with their families.”

These cooking classes have met with considerable local success because, Munoz believes, “Parents in our community are incredibly dedicated to education, and they see this as an opportunity for their kids to learn about social justice through the lens of food. This is a challenge for us, too. I have trained with programs that explore issues of equality and social justice in the school and community garden settings, and I will apply what I have learned to start an age-appropriate dialogue with our students in the kitchen … all while making sure we don’t burn our lunch!”

Through all of this, however, Munoz does not want her students to lose sight of the man behind the holiday. “Camp will start with the question, ‘Why are we off school today?’ By examining the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Black History month, we can begin a discussion about influential black chefs throughout history.”

To sign your young ones up for this special MLK holiday cooking class, go to  :

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...