Roots to Grow! Life Skills Training for Orphaned Kids in Mongolia

Holt’s Child Nutrition Program team travels to Mongolia to teach older children in institutional care an important life skill — how to plan and prepare nourishing meals.

In September 2019, the Holt International Child Nutrition Program piloted our very first children’s life skills training — “Roots to Grow!” This training, designed for older children living in institutional care, is a fun and interactive way to learn about basic life skills, including topics such as cooking, kitchen safety, nutrition basics, grocery budgeting, menu planning, and hygiene and sanitation.

When children grow up in families, they typically learn most of their life skills from influences within their families. But when children grow up in care centers, they have fewer opportunities to learn and develop some of these often overlooked, but crucial skills.

In most orphanages, on-site staff will plan, purchase and prepare meals for everyone, and children are rarely involved in important everyday activities essential to adulthood — such as learning how to shop, meal planning and preparing nutritious meals. Without these essential life skills, it can be extremely difficult for children who age out of care to make their way as an independent adult. These children need support learning skills that will help them maintain healthy lifestyles, follow their professional goals and lead successful lives.

We held our first Roots to Grow! training over three days in September at a care center for older children in Mongolia. It was an amazing few days of learning, teaching, practicing and playing with a remarkable group of children, ages 8 to 15. For all of them, the training included a lot of firsts! The first time eating a strawberry or a peach. The first time using a blender. The first time trying meals from other countries. And the first time learning about how to plan a menu to meet their nutritional needs!

As a group, we explored different nutrients, the food sources they can be found in, and their impact on maintaining a healthy body. We even learned how to tell if we are “super-tasters” based on the number of taste buds we have! While this training included many firsts for the children, we had many of our own as well. The children shared about themselves and their limited previous experience with cooking. They also taught us some new games and told us about their favorite activities. All of the children were so engaged and excited to participate during the training.

At the beginning of our three days together, many of the children shared that they wanted to become chefs when they grew up. And by the end of the training, many of them were excited to share with their caregivers and teachers all the fun skills and techniques they learned from Roots to Grow! — such as how to safely handle a knife or how to adjust recipes when you don’t have all the ingredients.

During the training, they also learned about hand washing and how to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen. In addition to the skills, the children were able to try new, fun and tasty meals such as bibimbap, pasta fagioli, focaccia bread, vegetable omelets, chicken pot pie, kale chips and even apple crisp for dessert! The children also received their own aprons, cooking hats and workbooks and at the end of the training, we presented each of them with a certificate to commemorate completion.

When they had the opportunity to share feedback, both the children and staff say that they valued the training and plan to share it by leading trainings for other children at the site. The children have already led their own mini-trainings to share what they learned with other kids, and staff in Mongolia have already trained children at a new site!

In the coming months, we are excited to bring the Roots to Grow! training to care centers in more countries, and we look forward to adapting it for children of all ages — engaging them in the development of fun and necessary life skills they need to live healthy, successful lives.

Emily DeLacey | Nutrition and Health Programs Director

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