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Some of the four- and five-year-olds at Family Services’ Sarah Y. Austin Head Start were treated to a special visit by celebrity chef, Curtis Aikens, who was in Winston-Salem to promote his new book, ABC Soup: A Family and Friends Cookbook (Prospective Press, Winston-Salem, NC).

Aikens is one of the original Food-Network chefs, whose love for and knowledge of fresh produce launched four television shows and propelled him as a national spokesperson for good nutrition and healthy eating. His passion for making fruits and vegetables accessible and popular has garnered major television appearances, visits to the White House, and numerous high profile requests to serve as a consultant on major initiatives.

Today, Aikens was “super chef” to 16 pre-K children who were delighted to help him make a simple pot of vegetable soup.

During 45 animated minutes, Aikens quizzed them on types of vegetables, kitchen safety, and why it’s important to keep hands clean during cooking. He encouraged them to savor the sweetness of the raw vegetables, taking time to cut small pieces for tasting, and to talk about their favorite foods.

Each child enjoyed a starring role in the cooking lesson as one-by-one Aikens let them add ingredients or stir the pot. And, when the soup was ready, all 16 lined up in anticipation of tasting what they had helped to cook.

“When the kids participate in the cooking, they take ownership of the food and enjoy what they are eating,” said Aikens, whose new down-to-earth book is aimed at bringing children and families together around home-grown wisdom and simple, healthy, and delicious food.

His visit was a perfect match with Head Start’s emphasis on providing nutritional services to children, and their families, who are in the program. In addition to employing an on-site nutrition-certified food services staff, Family Services has partnered with local chef, Don McMillan, and the Chef and Child Foundation to elevate the importance of healthy nutrition in childhood development. McMillan offers monthly cooking classes for Head Start families at the Sarah Y. Austin facility. He also coordinates local chefs and culinary students to host the annual Nutrition Day Breakfast at four Head Start locations in October, in recognition of National Nutrition Day and Child Hunger Awareness Month.

McMillan’s international reputation and his program with the children drew the interest of Aikens, who said he really wants to help children realize that they don’t have to be an athlete or a superstar in order to be someone special.

Aikens’ mission comes from the heart of his own experiences. As a former adult literacy student, he learned to read at age 26. Today, in addition to the career that has brought him celebrity status, he is fiercely committed to adult education and lifelong-learning, including his own desire to earn a doctorate in education.

“You are not defined by your current circumstances or where you are at the moment,” he said. “It’s important to know where you want to go.”

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Family Services has been the local provider of the national Head Start program since 1965. A recent grant enabled the agency to add the Early Head Start program in Forsyth County in the Fall of 2015. In collaboration with partner centers across the county, the Head Start program provides evidence-based early childhood education services to 499 three to five-year-olds and 120 children, from infancy to three years of age. The agency’s Better Future campaign will help bring universal pre-K to every child in the community.