Kids in the Kitchen: Dr Shyamala Vishnumohan

Today my guest in the Kids in the Kitchen series (where we meet parents and children who bond, have fun and make life long memories in their kitchens) is Dr Shyamala Vishnumohan or Shy as everyone likes to call her.

She is a food scientist, a registered nutritionist, a nutrition consultant for the food industry and an ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution community with a mission to empower, educate and engage as many people as possible to love and enjoy real, honest and nutritious food. She lives in the beautiful Western Australia with her husband, their two kids, a fish tank and a beautiful garden with olive trees, curry leaves, lemon and lime trees and kumquats (I am turning GREEN with envy!). She shares,”today we have cafes, restaurants, fast foods, vending machines, packaged foods. Anywhere you go….there is food. I come from an Indian family where my mom and my aunties discussed food like admirals preparing for war – what’s for breakfast? For lunch? For dinner? Do we have enough to make that? Who is going to the markets? We hardly ate out. So kitchen became my creative playground where memories are being made with my children, one recipe at a time”. She shares her passion for cooking real, honest and nutritious food on her page “Unbiased Food Education“. It is her little space to try and demystify food and nutrition that has become unnecessarily complicated today.

Let’s say hi to Shy and her two little chefs; Dhish and Luxsh!

Shy, please tell us a little about your children? 

Our little Kids aged 8 (Dhish) and 4 (Luxsh) love exploring food and messing up the kitchen. They are endlessly fascinated with everything around the kitchen; from my old school milk boiler which whistles in tune like a teenager to the pressure cooker that hisses “sssshhhhhh” like a mother trying to discipline her kids. Mustard seeds crackling is magic to their senses. At home, eating with their hands and licking their fingers is how they make love with the food. Luxsh along with her influential brother has watched every single episode of Varehvah; a show run by the famous and funny YouTube Celebrity Chef Sanjay Thumma!

Do your children “cook” with you? How do you involve them in the kitchen/during meal times/grocery shopping? 

Food revolution starts at home. I have been making a conscious effort to get my kids involved in the process of putting food on their own plates. It could be harvesting something small from the garden like picking curry leaves and chillies or making dough from scratch (My son is the “dough man” and he feels very proud of his title), walking through a market picking fresh produce or looking up recipes and talking about what we could do with them which is followed by actually involving them in the process. Aristotle rightly said “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Cooking is certainly not a spectator sport and nobody is born with a rolling pin. It’s time we raise adults who can cook. Get the Kids in the kitchen. Kids are much more stronger and more capable than what we give them credit for.

How do you think their getting involved in either or all of the above has altered their food habits?

Our kids are growing up in a confusing food environment. On one hand, the Junk Food Industry has invested billions of dollars in their sophisticated marketing campaign to teach children to want sugary drinks, sugary cereals and highly processed junk foods. On the other hand, there is this extreme diet-obsessed culture (paleo, gluten free, low-carb, clean eating, juicing, detox etc) which emphasizes on weight loss rather than health and well-being. I must admit that the nutrition world has done a huge disservice by teaching people about proteins, carbs and fats to a point where we have lost the joy of eating. The result is generation of kids growing up with fear of food and making all the wrong choices. So we as parents have a huge responsibility in bringing that balance back. It is about going back to basics and giving the love of cooking and food back into their little hands so they have a healthy relationship with food. As the the saying goes…. “teach a man to fish”. What would happen if we can teach kids about fish? Or grains? Or pulses? Or fruits? Or vegetables? It is truly invigorating and empowering to have that power so they can pass the baton to the next generation.

How do you deal with mess/chaos that comes with them being in the kitchen? More importantly how do you maintain your sanity? 

Let’s be honest. There are times when the reality of having kids in the kitchen means everything takes longer and there is a lot of fuss and mess along the way. They splatter curry on the wall, I get hit on the head with things that fall from the cabinets, and there is flour, flour everywhere. It’s not easy for me but I try to shift the focus from the mess and show them the practise of cleaning as I work – it is a lot easier! Kids are not the only ones who make mistakes and a mess. I too have a blackened one of my very nice copper pans without the “help of a kid” 🙂 So everyone has flops in the kitchen. I guess what is important is to show them the strategy to fix when things go wrong and how to avoid that mistake in the future. The lessons learned in the kitchen can go far beyond the kitchen and the mess. Cooking is like life. They will learn only if they make mistakes.

Is there any recipe that all of you would like to share?

The walnut date cookie recipe is one of our favourite recipes to make together (I can see that from the stained copy of the recipe and how I love that about it :))

Walnut and date cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4th cup walnut halves
  • 3/4th cup dates (pitted; about 10 of them)
  • 1/4th cup lupins (optional)
  • 1/2 an egg
  • 1/4th teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4th cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 18o degrees celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Process the dates and the walnuts together until a crumbly mixture is formed using a food processor. Add in the salt, baking soda, vanilla, egg and lupins (if using) and process again until the batter is relatively smooth (batter will be sticky compared to a traditional cookie dough). Add in the chocolate chips and briefly pulse, just to combine.
  2. Spoon the batter onto the lined baking sheet, and use your hands to gently flatten the cookie dough (Tip: wet your hands with water to prevent sticking).
  3. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Don’t these cookies look incredible?! I will definitely give them a try.

Thank you Shy for dropping by with Dhish and Luxsh. I absolutely loved reading about you and your family. It is always so lovely meeting up whenever you are in my part of the world and hearing these tales about your little ones and seeing their pictures, I feel I already know them a little bit more!

Thanks once again for being a part of this series and for inspiring me and so many others by sharing your beautiful story with us. 

Do you cook with your kids? Did you enjoy meeting Shy & the kids? I’d love to hear.

Images: These pictures have been taken from Shy with her permission. If you like any of the pictures on the blog and would like to use those please write to me. I put in hours of work behind each post and would love to share it with you but it would hurt me if  use those without my permission. Just ask! 
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