To help nourish kids' appetites and minds, Samantha Barnes recommends they put on an apron and head right to the kitchen.
In 2014, Barnes, a former middle school social studies teacher based in Los Angeles, founded Raddish, a monthly subscription kit that helps children develop cooking skills. Unlike Blue Apron or Plated, these meal kits don't actually include food — instead each box is stocked with illustrated step-by-step recipes, grocery shopping lists, nutrition guides and kid-friendly kitchen tools.
The idea is that month after month, kids will be able to build up their own little supply of kitchen tools and the unique activity guides will teach kids different skills. Every month, the boxes change to incorporate different themes that integrate math, science, geography, culture and history into a culinary lesson.
For example, January's box helps subscribers learn about Swedish cuisine and culture with recipes for Nordic cinnamon buns, Swedish meatballs and a Scandinavian Smorgasbord. It also comes with a Swedish Eats music playlist, an activity for a Swedish craft and red rubber tongs. Raddish's website also includes simple swaps for dietary preferences and restrictions, which is updated each month to reflect what's in the new box.
Before founding Raddish, Barnes created Kitchen Kid in 2006. Through that experience, she brought cooking experiences to camps, after-school classes, parties and people's private homes.
"I see the kitchen as this great equalizer. Kids of all ages and abilities can come together and do something that fills them up with pride," Barnes told TODAY.
In 2014, she left her position as a teacher to fully devote her time to packaging and delivering culinary education programs to homes around the country. But Barnes had her hands in the mixing bowl long before that.
Growing up, her mother owned a cookware shop and Barnes witnessed how making food always seemed to bring people together. Once she began teaching, she saw that learning how to cook fosters far more than just culinary skills in kids and teens.
"I think my background as an educator really allowed me to discover that in the kitchen you can teach math, you can teach science," she said. "But then I also think the kitchen gives confidence. They get to feel that success and that pride."
Aside from inspiring confidence and promoting time spent with family members, cooking has been shown to help children with their hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and sequencing, says Barnes. These skills encourage both younger and older kids to do better in school while they build an understanding about how important it is to know how one's food is prepared — and what healthy eating really entails.
"My hope is that we get kids off screens, we're not trying to get kids to be restaurateurs and to be future chefs," said Barnes, "it's really about giving them the skills that they can go off and use the rest of their lives."