KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee nonprofit is getting kids excited about food that’s good for both people and the planet. 

Little Chefs, Big Change launched in November 2022 in Pond Gap Elementary School as a partner organization of University-Assisted Community Schools. Sarah Wharton said she founded the nonprofit to teach affordable and fun plant-focused cooking to kids after school. 

“They are expanding their familiarity with healthy food and their preferences for foods packed with healthy components like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes,” said Wharton. 

Instructors are nearby as guiding figures while the kids prepare food and learn the trades of the kitchen. Every week they follow a new recipe. Most recently students measured, chopped and stirred ingredients to make Mexican Rice and Vegetarian Fiesta Lasagna. 

The program also encourages teamwork as the little chefs pull the meal together. 

“It makes us one big family of little chefs working together,” said Jasen Smith, a third grader. 

“It’s actually more [fun] than cooking by yourself or with your mother. It’s more joyful than just staying by yourself cooking and you can also get social skills from doing it and you can get a larger group of friends,” said Anthony Aguilar, a fifth grader. 

Wharton says she’s inspired by the kids and how they use their brains in the kitchen. 

She’s eager to expand the program to more schools and after-school programs in East Tennessee. 

“Helping these kids have access to foods and be exposed to foods that are going to help build strong bodies while also helping the environment it’s great, it’s a true win-win,” said Wharton.

Wharton also offers virtual cooking classes for the entire family. She sends the ingredients home with the kids and they all cook together virtually. 

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