Wendy Jeffries and her husband Chris have lived in Baltimore for 15 years. After trying a few different neighborhoods, they settled in Guilford because they wanted to be in walking distance to multiple destinations like Charles Village and Hampden. (They don’t have any pets currently — although their daughters keep trying to persuade them!)
Adventure allures the whole family, which is why being the founding Executive Director of TasteWiseKids has been such a perfect fit for Wendy. The organization empowers kids to think about food in new ways, to explore their own sense of taste and to realize that flavorful, nutritious food and good health go together – naturally. Basically, they make exploring food an adventure!
“It blends my passions – education, food, and well-being – with my skills in a way that is creative and rewarding,” said Wendy. The career also provides flexibility to schedule work around her kids and family.
Wendy is more of a a tea drinker, although she loves a good café au lait when she’s out and about. The multitasking mom sat down with us (virtually) to talk about how she teaches her own kids about healthy eating, the ways in which TasteWise Kids has pivoted during COVID, and the first thing she’s cooking for friends when it’s safe to have gatherings at home again.
Coffee with Wendy Jeffries, Executive Director of TasteWise Kids
Tell us about Tastewise Kids. What does the organization do? How did you come to be Executive Director?
TasteWise Kids is a Baltimore based non-profit that operates with a single goal in mind: to offer children fun ways to learn about food and inspire positive, healthy eating habits. Kids learn directly from professional chefs, farmers, and other food professionals and get to engage in their own food journey.
After working in nonprofits and schools for 15 years, I took time off after having my first daughter to figure out what was next for me professionally. During that time, I was part of the Board for the precursor to TasteWise Kids and volunteered with its Days of Taste program. Then, in 2015, I was part of a small group that came up with the vision and did the hard work to make TasteWise Kids a reality. I was honored to be asked to become TasteWise Kids’ founding Executive Director.
Leading this organization is a perfect fit. It blends my passions – education, food, and well-being – with my skills in a way that is creative and rewarding. Just as important, I can have the flexibility to schedule my work around my kids and family, especially this past year which I see as a luxury.
I like to refer to 2020 as the ‘year of the pivot.’ Clearly, TWK’s traditional programming relied heavily on in-person experiences. How have you reimagined the program so that it continues to thrive?
Yes, 2020 was an interesting year to say the least! We took it as an opportunity to create a new program directly focused on families, which was something we had been hoping to do but hadn’t had the bandwidth to focus on. In a matter of 3 weeks, we created TWKatHome, a FREE + FUN weekly online learning series featuring local food professionals and farmers, family-friendly activities and opportunities for extended learning that can be done at home with minimal materials. We continue to create new content regularly and based on the great feedback we have received, and are expanding our content and reach for 2021.
We also transformed our usual in-person classroom Days of Taste program into a virtual experience. 4th graders learn how food travels from farm to table and explore the elements of taste. Our professional farmers and chef partners have been so supportive and have been amazing “virtual guest speakers” in the classrooms.
Part of the mission of TasteWise Kids to help children develop healthy eating habits. How do you foster healthy eating with your own family?
To start, it’s just part of our family fabric; we go to the Waverly farmers’ market every Saturday and talk with the famers, we get excited about planning and cooking meals, the girls help pick our Thursday carry-out spot, and we embrace how fun food can be (even if it means a very messy kitchen). One thing we started during the pandemic is our 6-year-old is now in charge of dinner once a week, planning and leading the cooking. It may not always be our ideal meal, but it’s so worth it to see her owning the kitchen and becoming confident in her skills.
We talk about food in terms of how it helps your body. For example, fruits and vegetables help you grow, protein gives you energy to do all the things you enjoy. My 3-year-old now asks questions like “is yogurt a fruit?” Those questions help her think about making balanced choices.
We also use “controlled choices,” giving our children 2-3 options that they can choose from so they have some control in the process. For example, they can choose turkey or peanut butter for lunch but they can’t just have a bagel and strawberries.
I think the most important thing for kids is letting them be part of their own food journey. It’s ok to not like things but you have to try them (and more than once as it can take up to 14 times before your tastebuds decide if you like something!).
Who would you say is your foodie idol? Why?
My food idols are Marcus Samelson, Giada de Laurentiis, and Padma Lakshmi for authentically owning their food stories. All of them make creative yet accessible food, embrace various flavors profiles, and illustrate how food can be fun.
When it’s safe to have friends and family over for dinner again, who is coming to dinner and what are you cooking?
I’ll be hosting my amazing friends to celebrate our collective creativity and resiliency that got us all through the pandemic. I will forgo cooking and host a potluck where we all bring a “food find” from the past year – I’ll either make gazpacho (if it’s warm out) or share something yummy from Larder or Motzi Bread. With champagne of course!