The daughter of a world champion cheese maker, Heidi Fannin grew up on a farm knowing where her food came from and she taught her children how to cook.
She assumed that others knew this as well. But then she realized with the growing number of children becoming obese and the rise of childhood illnesses in relationship to childhood obesity, there was an opportunity there to share her love of cooking with children.
A Caledonia resident, Fannin spoke at the Golden Rondelle for Eat Right Racine, a group she started in 2009 to promote health eating in the community, where she did a segment on kids in the kitchen and what’s for lunch. That’s what spurred the Kitchen Kidz cooking classes, videos and now… a cookbook called Kitchen Kidz that pairs a hard copy book with how-to videos.
“What really drives me is the health of our country, the health of our children and if we don’t get our kids in the kitchen we are never going to change the cycle of these illnesses… like Type II diabetes used to never be seen in children and now it is,” Fannin said. “That’s just unacceptable.”
Her inspiration all along for Eat Right Racine, and Kitchen Kidz came from her father “Billy Boy” Lehner, a world champion cheese maker and living on a farm. Watching the farming economy shift from small family farms to large, corporate-owned farms worried Lehner. When she was nine, Lehner complained about the changes. What others saw as progress represented a loss in people’s social responsibility in controlling their own food choices.
“I didn’t understand it then, but now I totally get it now,” she said.
Fannin started Kitchen Kidz, a children’s cooking class she recorded and put up on YouTube, about two years ago. She allowed the kids to brainstorm about what kind of food they wanted to cook. And the concept took off. Ralph Malicki, owner of Malick’s Piggly Wiggly, supported the project by buying the food.
She had always thought about writing a book, but the thought of doing one overwhelmed her until she talked to her good friend Janet Mrazik. But she knew people learned in different ways and this was another way to spread her message: teaching children to cook is important. But talking about eating right and making the videos came easy to Fannin, but writing the book brought challenges.
Fannin had already done a series of videos. She had the photos and the recipes. The information was all there, but weeding through a thousand photos to find the right one seemed like a daunting task. Mrazik helped her organize the information by printing out the recipes she used for a group she called Kitchen Kidz and a local videographer Justin Wheeler took the video.
But the children in the video also inspired her by coming up with creative ways to make chicken lettuce wraps and spaghetti squash.
“We need to teach our kids to cook, and not just something from a box,” Fannin said. “But I’m coming from a place of compassion and love. I’m hoping that by doing that, I can make a difference.”
Fannin will hold a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 4 at Humble Home, 407 Main St., and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 5 at Piggly Wiggly, 5201 Washington Avenue.
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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.
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