Changing the world, one meal at a time

Admoni is clear in saying that healthy cooking and eating can be fun and delicious. “I don’t want to teach children that health cooking is always salad or rice or quinoa. No, no, no,” she said.

April 4, 2019 17:46
REVITAL ADMONI: ‘I believe that only through the senses can I teach children.’

REVITAL ADMONI: ‘I believe that only through the senses can I teach children.’ . (photo credit: AVIVIT ISAACSON)

Back in the dark, long-ago bad-old days, when some of us were children in Boston public elementary schools, boys took “shop” classes to learn to make things like wooden paper towel holders, and girls took “home economics,” where they were taught the importance of cooking. This, they were told, was essential in “catching a husband,” because, after all, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” We boys, however, were left with no idea why we were learning to make wooden paper towel holders.

Today, many years later, a very energetic woman here in Israel is proving that the stomach is the way to children’s hearts and minds, as well as the way to change their lives for the better. Revital Admoni is teaching children to cook foods they already like and others they have never seen or even heard of, driven by a missionary zeal to improve their lives by improving their diets.

There is an old saying, “Life is something that happens to you while you’re planning something else.” Admoni was born 43 years ago to a Yemenite family in Ma’alot, and later became a student at Beit Berl College, where she studied to be a teacher. She found the test-taking period at the end of each semester to be particularly stressful. “So in order to relax, I’d take a break from studying and go into my kitchen and start to cook,” she recalls. “I’d cook all kinds of things, and also bake. After a while, my friends started to come over during test times, because they knew there would be a lot of good food.”

And thus the world soon gained not only a teacher, but also a good cook. Years later, it would also gain a crusading nutritionist as well. “I was living in Rosh Ha’ayin, teaching cooking at a company that was working with schools. I was cooking the way most people cook, with white flour, white sugar, and margarine.” But Admoni was not only cooking and teaching. In her spare time, she was reading about proper nutrition. “I was shocked! I realized I was poisoning them. I couldn’t do it anymore. I wrote to the manager and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t teach this anymore.’”

ADMONI QUIT her job in 2009 and wrote a proposal to the Education Ministry, outlining a possible full school-year curriculum and classes on healthy cooking and healthy eating. Her impressive proposal, dynamic personality, and unrelenting persistence soon led to her teaching nutritional education, and enabled her to establish her own company, Derekh ha Hushim, “Through the Senses.”

“I started in my home town, Rosh Ha’ayin. There are a lot of Yemenite people there. In the beginning, they did not understand what I was saying. They eat jakhnun with a lot of not healthy ingredients. But I started at one school, and the children started going back home and asking for what we were cooking. But the parents didn’t know how to make it. They didn’t know how to make quinoa, for example, because they didn’t ever eat it at home. That’s how I started, and one thing led to another.”
Today, Admoni and a staff of five are teaching one-day-a-week classes to first- through 12th-grade children at schools in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, Ramat Hasharon, Kiryat Ono, Kfar Saba, and starting in February, Haifa.

Admoni’s curriculum focuses on nutrients, highlighting a different nutrient each week. Examples include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fats. Each lesson involves cooking and eating a dish that pertains to the specific nutrient being studied.
“For example, this week we studied a about vitamins,” she explained. “We studied that they are very good for our health, they make us strong, and how in the winter we need to be healthy because of all the colds and flu going around. We studied that the vitamins are not good when we heat them or refrigerate them. They’re best when we cut the fresh vegetables. If you cut vegetables for salad, do it near to the time that you want to eat. Same with heating. If you cook potatoes in the oven, they’re great, but you should know that they have [less] vitamins after you’ve cooked them. So you should make a fresh salad on the side for the vitamins.” 

‘HEALTHY COOKING and eating can be fun and delicious’: A cooking class with Admoni. (Eyal Keren)

There are also special lessons throughout the year that focus on Jewish holiday foods and more healthy ways to prepare them.

THE NAME of Admoni’s company reflects her experiential, hands-on approach to teaching. “I believe that only through the senses can I teach children. Seeing, feeling, touching, tasting and smelling food and ingredients teach and influence children better than me simply standing at a white board and talking. That’s how they can say, ‘Wow! I love to eat this!’ If I just stand there saying that quinoa is delicious, it would be just, ‘Thank you, and goodbye.’ The children eat the dishes we make in class, then they go home and ask for these dishes for dinner. Even with quinoa!”

Admoni is clear in saying that healthy cooking and eating can be fun and delicious. “I don’t want to teach children that health cooking is always salad or rice or quinoa. No, no, no,” she says enthusiastically. “Healthy eating can also be sweet – cookies, cakes. Yes, of course. What matters is what we make them with, what we put inside them. You can make cakes, soufflés, waffles, and chocolate things with good ingredients, healthy ingredients.”

In addition, the dishes she and her students create are not only kosher, but safe for children with food allergies, including lactose intolerance.

Admoni’s program of education for better nutrition is more than just a curriculum. It is a crusade. “There are two principles in these lessons,” she says. First, I want the children to get to know new things, like broccoli. They don’t eat broccoli at home. Not because the parents don’t buy these things. They don’t even think of buying these things. In these lessons, they get to know these things. They get to taste them together.

“The second principle is that you can eat everything you want. Just think wise. If you want schnitzel, that’s fine. But don’t fry it. If you want donuts at Hanukkah, fine. We made them in the oven, and they were delicious. You want a chocolate cream inside the donut? Great! We made a chocolate cream with tofu. You can eat anything. Just think wise, and choose the better option.

“Math, biology, history – all of these are important subjects. But nutrition is an important subject, too. We can’t ignore obesity and the illness that comes from that. We’re talking about the health of our children. And if they’re not studying this now, in a few years the results of bad eating will be a major problem for our country.”

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