Deanna Kolar makes milk-painted biscuit balloon bouquets
Deanna Kolar's cooking classes for kids include a sprinkle of nutrition and safety and a heaping spoonful of fun.
Geared to children ages 21/2 to 6 years, each of her park district classes is built on a theme and jam-packed with activity.
Ambitious and energetic, Deanna plans three to four recipes per 45-minute session, a whirlwind schedule that keeps little hands and minds busy and happy.
"I like to make the projects cute and attractive to get them to eat something new and healthy," says the Palatine resident.
For a hockey theme, the kids made skating ponds out of tortillas and hockey sticks from pretzels and green pepper cubes.
For "spring," they make English muffin umbrellas with cream cheese, chopped vegetables and a celery stick pole. For Earth Day, flowers made from colored peppers, zucchini sticks, pretzel sticks and sunflower seeds were on the menu.
But "Mrs. Dee," as the kids call her, always includes a dessert too, like a yummy football field made with a graham cracker, green frosting and pretzel stick goalposts, or a tasty bear made from round crackers, chocolate frosting, mini chocolate chip cookies for eyes and raisins for paws.
Even with her littlest students, Deanna shows the kids where each ingredient fits on a poster of the food pyramid, and sometimes challenges them to figure it out.
"It helps me explain why they can't eat the whole tub of frosting," she says.
At the end of each session the kids take home a cookbook including nutritional facts and a food pyramid.
The mother of two boys, 13 and 10, Deanna practices at home what she teaches in class.
"I would much rather cook a meal at home; I'm not one to go out to dinner," she says. Order-out pizza is once-a-month treat, maybe; desserts are allowed in moderation.
Five-foot-two and less than 100 pounds, Deanna exercises at her local YMCA and walks her dog several miles a day. Sleep? Six hours or less, depending on her commitments.
A former banker, Deanna never expected to become a teacher. She started with the park district by chance 10 years ago teaching toddler gym, when a supervisor asked her to fill in for someone who had quit.
She found it rewarding and fun enough to add cooking classes six years ago.
This week you can organize your own kids cooking session with Deanna's circus-themed recipes. Invite the play group to make painted biscuit balloons, celery and cucumber circus wagons and Banana Splats Monkey Faces on rice cakes.
"They are learning healthy eating, creativity and developing their fine motor skills," says Deanna.
But don't tell them.