Little Sprouts: Mint Hill’s home-based children’s cooking school

Mint Hill mom of four Nellie Johnston teaches cooking classes out of her home.
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Little Sprouts, founded by mom of four Nellie Johnston, is a home-based cooking school that teaches both basic and advanced cooking skills to children of all ages.  For Johnston, teaching cooking classes out of her home isn’t just about convenience.  “I want the kids to get used to cooking in an environment like they’ll be cooking in at home,” says Johnston, whose ultimate goal is to send her students away with the confidence to reproduce what they cook in class at home, in other words, to be chefs in their own right.

Cooking with her own children has always been important to Johnston.  “I’ve been cooking with my kids since they were old enough to walk!” she claims.  With a background in athletic training, sports medicine and nutrition, Johnston was in search of a way to turn her passion into a business venture when her own children were in school.  One and a half years ago, she became a certified kids’ nutritionist and started teaching out of her Mint Hill home.

Johnston teaches children to prepare meals they can cook for their families at home.

Johnston offers a variety of weekly classes catered to different age groups and skill levels.  Her “Basic Cooking Class” for school-aged children from six years old to seniors in high school covers basic cooking skills like mixing, measuring, chopping and following a recipe while preparing various foods.  This month, Johnston has been focusing on 30-minute meals her students can make at home.  For her oldest students, this meant Peruvian fried rice with ginger and shrimp; her younger students have focused on breakfast skills.  “My goal is really to be able to get them to go home and cook for their families,” says Johnston.

Johnston even offers classes for preschool aged children from three to five.  These classes are a bit shorter – roughly half and hour – and designed for preschoolers’ unique capabilities and interests.  For example, while older children may be focusing on making hashbrowns and eggs baked in pepper rings, preschoolers may be making tie-dyed pancakes!  Johnston also provides young children with modified recipe cards that include simple picture steps.  For young children who aren’t quite ready to be on their own in the kitchen, Johnston offers “Mommy and Me” classes for toddler/adult pairs on the last Friday of every month.

Even children as young as three can learn to cook with Johnston.

In addition to weekly and monthly classes, Johnston also offers two-hour, one-time specialty classes for kids ages five through seventeen.  This month, Johnston offered one of her most popular specialty classes: pie-making.  Students had the choice of making an apple, chocolate mousse or pumpkin pie from scratch.  During the two-hour class, Johnston helps the group to make each pie so they get to taste all three and bring one home.  They also take home all three recipes.  “I’m really big on giving them the recipes,” says Johnston, “If they can’t recreate it at home, then it’s kind of pointless!”

Pie-making is one of Johnston’s most popular classes.

In December, Johnston plans to offer two Holiday Baking classes where students will work together to make holiday treats like cookies, fudge and peppermint patties.  Each student will put together a plate of cookies to take home, and of course, recipes to replicate on their own.  Johnston encourages her students to make a plate of cookies like the one they take home as a  gift for a neighbor or a teacher.  Johnston also enjoys teaching about the science of baking, like why cookies rise and flatten.  Little Sprouts holiday baking classes will be held Monday, December 18 and Tuesday, December 19 from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm.  The class is $30.00 per student (siblings receive a 15% discount) and is open to children ages eight and older.

Johnston wants her customers to know that her class offerings are flexible.  “A lot of people contact me and see she only teaches these certain hours and days,” says Johnston.  But Johnston is passionate about pursuing any opportunity she can to help kids develop a healthy relationship with food and learn to prepare healthy food for their families.  She’s taught homeschooled children, girl scouts, church groups, and even kids in town on the PGA tour.  

“I really have a passion for this, and I really want to go out into the community and talk about it,” says Johnston.  “I wish there was more of me!  I wish I could get out there more and teach.”

Learn more about Little Sprouts and their class offerings on their web site:

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: