Watertown’s Sally Sampson wants to teach families healthy cooking with ChopChop

The original article can be found on Wicked Local Watertown.

Watertown resident and ChopChop Family founder Sally Sampson is using cooking as a way to educate the community about life skills and healthy eating.

ChopChop Family is a nonprofit that distributes a variety of quarterly cooking magazines and cookbooks to different organizations such as food banks, community health centers, schools, after-school programs and more. The magazines come in both English and Spanish. In the last year Sampson has also begun offering hands-on cooking classes at ChopChop’s Belmont test kitchen.

Sampson’s background is as a cookbook writer. Her inspiration for the ChopChop magazines came from a desire to do something more meaningful than just writing cookbooks, and from her experiences with her own child who has a chronic illness. Sampson’s earliest vision saw the ChopChop magazines as a means to address child obesity. Her intent was to distribute cooking magazines geared towards children to doctor’s offices.

“The original idea was for pediatricians to prescribe cooking well during child visits as an antidote to obesity,” said Sampson.

When the company launched, however, other organizations got in touch with Sampson requesting to distribute the magazine as well. Her vision soon expanded. She began distributing ChopChop not just to doctor’s offices but to schools, community health centers, and even Native American reservations. Over the years ChopChop has continued to prosper.

“We have grown enormously since we started,” said Sampson. “ChopChop has tripled in size.”

New projects

At its inception ChopChop distributed one quarterly magazine designed for children. Now, the organization distributes three different magazines: ChopChop, Sprout and Seasoned. Sprout is designed specifically for families on the federal WIC food assistance program, and Seasoned is aimed at the elderly. The magazines are now available in every state as well as 24 countries.

This past year ChopChop has implemented a new cooking program at its Belmont test kitchen geared mainly to children. Sampson hired Allie Crafton to help develop new classes for the program. This fall, said Crafton, ChopChop is offering a variety of fun and educational cooking experiences.

On Oct. 16 ChopChop will have a fall themed workshop centered around apples. The class is perfect for the season, said Crafton, as children can come, have fun, learn and create different apple dishes. Another workshop Crafton said she is looking forward to is the Movie Night class on Dec. 4.

“One of our chefs is Steven Spielberg’s personal chef, so she is going to be doing a kids’ class that focuses on foods from cinema,” said Crafton.

Over the next couple of months ChopChop will also have Halloween- and Thanksgiving-themed workshops, a Spanish-themed cooking class and more. In addition to these, ChopChop has begun an ongoing cooking series called Edible Alphabets. The program runs through January and is for toddlers and their parents. Each class focuses on one letter of the alphabet and one food that begins with that letter, starting with “A is for avocado.”

Helping families eat better

Sampson said ChopChop cooking classes are a great way to inspire children to eat different foods. It did one class with collard greens, she remembered, and had one boy who loved them. When the boy’s father came to pick his son up, he was stunned. The father said every Sunday their family has collard greens at their grandma’s, but his son refuses to eat them. Sampson and Crafton said this happens all of the time.

″[The kids] leave the class having tried new things,” said Crafton, “and their parents are shocked.”

In addition to expanding kids’ palates, Sampson believes the workshops also teaches children valuable life skills. Teaching children to cook, Sampson said, enables them in important ways.

“The kids learn how to cook meals but, also, cooking teaches math and science, cultural literacy and financial literacy,” she said.

When Sampson first started ChopChop not everyone understood the idea of children and cooking, she said. Over the years she has seen a change in that attitude. Now, Sampson thinks that people really see it as an exciting thing for children to do.

Over the years Sampson believes her organization has made a positive impact on the community. She pointed to a program ChopChop did a couple of years ago, with a grant from Watertown Savings Bank, where it distributed magazines to every elementary school child in Watertown for a year.

“We surveyed the families and found that kids were eating more fruits and vegetables. They were willing to try foods that they hadn’t before. They were cooking at home, and that is what we want.” said Sampson.

Looking forward, Crafton and Sampson said they would love to expand ChopChop’s audience. They are hoping to reach not only children and seniors but young adults, who are just out of college and still trying to figure out how to cook.