Little Sprouts introduces kids to cuisine from around the world

Nellie Johnston runs Little Sprouts Cooking School out of her Mint Hill home.
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On Monday, January 22, Nellie Johnston held the first in a series of monthly specialty cooking classes for children at Little Sprouts, her Mint Hill home-based cooking school.

January’s class theme was “Around the World.”  Johnston led seven students ages eight through twelve through the process of making dishes from three different countries: steak marinated in Chimichurri sauce, spaetzle and chocolat au pain.

One of the dishes Johnston helped her students create in the “Around the World” class was steak marinated in Chimichurri sauce.

Johnston’s goal was to give students a taste of authentic cuisine from three diverse areas of the globe.  Chimichurri is a green sauce commonly used as a marinade for or accompaniment to meat in Argentina.  Johnston got the recipe from her own parents who are currently living in Argentina.  As she teaches, Johnston tries to educate students about the food they are making, peppering her lessons with facts about the importance of the beef industry in Argentina and the fresh herbs used to make the Chimichurri sauce.

Students used a food processor to make a Chimichurri sauce.

Spaetzle is a soft egg noodle found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary.  “My mother-in-law is German, and my brother married a Swiss girl, so it’s like a family recipe” says Johnston, who remembers eating spaetzle with many meals when she visited Germany.  “And it’s so easy to make.  It’s definitely something the kids could recreate at home, and it’s full of protein!”

For dessert, Johnston’s class made chocolat au pain, a french pastry with a chocolate center.  “The chocolate au pain is fun because it’s a real bang for your buck,” says Johnston.  “It’s really easy, but then when they see it they’re like, ‘Ooooh, it’s like a bakery!’” The danish dough is one of the only things Johnston made ahead of time, but she notes that it can also be bought pre-made in stores if the kids want to recreate the dessert at home.

Wanting her students to be able to replicate what they do in class is always front and center for Johnston, and it’s one of the reasons she chooses to teach in her own home.  Johnston is always thinking about how to make the class a more authentic experience for her students, like making them stand while they cook instead of sitting at the kitchen table.  “I’ve thought of renting out an industrial kitchen,” says Johnston, “but I like teaching in this environment because I want the kids to be able to go home and cook in their own kitchen.  The whole point is that I want them to be able to go home and do it.”

Teaching her students skills that they can bring home extends to things like kitchen etiquette and clean up.  Although she tries to leave time to sample their creations at the end of class, her students aren’t allowed to eat while they’re cooking.  “That’s our biggest rule, just because of health issues and sanitary issues,” says Johnston.  “I try to make them clean at the end, but sometimes if we run over, or if the kids get really excited and want to talk a lot, then there’s really not a lot of time to clean,” she adds.  “My classes during the week know the last five to ten minutes they have to rinse everything and stack it, spray down the counters, and put everything in the compost.”  

Of course, teaching in her own kitchen isn’t without its difficulties.  Johnston’s own children, ages six, nine, ten and twelve, were all due home from school just as Johnston’s class was about to begin.  If it’s appropriate for their age, Johnston’s kids often participate; otherwise, she relies on routines to keep them busy while she teaches.

“My kids all love to cook and that’s part of the reason I started doing this,” says Johnston.  That’s their thing they like to do with me.  They love to be in the kitchen with me and cook.  Even when they were really little and first starting to do chores, they were in the kitchen.  It’s so awesome because it’s such a great way to teach math and reading and science.”

Johnston is offering monthly specialty classes like her “Around the World” program through the month of April.  Next month’s theme will be “When Life Gives you Lemons.”  Students will make lemon-themed dishes like pasta, cookies, tarts and lemonade.  In addition to a 2-hour class for 8-17 year-olds, Johnston will also offer a 1.5-hour class for 5-7 year olds.  For more information about “When Life Gives you Lemons” and all of Little Sprouts class offerings, visit and click on “Mint Hill.”

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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 eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-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: