Michelle Greenebaum helps parents introduce new vegetables to their children. (Ken Greenebaum)
Michelle Greenebaum helps parents introduce new vegetables to their children. (Ken Greenebaum)

She helps kids and parents eat healthier by cooking together

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Michelle Greenebaum can remember the moment that her career transition began to take shape. It was after her daughter had been born, and the San Carlos resident was in her cubicle at a tech company. “In my heart, this is not for me,” she thought. “This is not what I’m supposed to be doing.”

While Greenebaum had always been interested in food and nutrition, and had majored in nutrition and exercise science at UC San Diego, she felt a new urgency with the birth of her daughter.

“I’d often be working from home and finding myself wanting to cook more than do my work,” she said. “As I made snacks from whole foods for my daughter, I began thinking about a business that teaches parents how to make vegetables taste good for their kids, as a lot of them don’t know how.”

Shortly after, she was talking to her aunt on the phone and told her, “I just want to cook all day.” Her aunt’s response: “So why don’t you do that?”

“It was like she was giving me permission, somehow,” Greenebaum recalled. She left her tech job and in 2016 started her business, called Together in the Kitchen.

It worked out perfectly that her daughter by then was in preschool at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. She spoke to one of the teachers about her idea and immediately got an invitation to pilot a class.

“It just started as an experiment,” said Greenebaum, “and my business grew from there. Today my JCC classes are still very near and dear to my heart, as I love building community around food. It was a nice place to get that experience working with families and teach them about whole foods.”

Since then, she has become a regular fixture at both the Palo Alto and the Peninsula JCCs, teaching cooking classes for kids and their parents, often with a holiday theme. The classes not only offer a way for parents to bond with their children, but they also introduce kids to new vegetables. (Greenebaum also offers consulting services for parents of picky eaters.)

Upcoming classes include one on Feb. 9 at the PJCC focused on Tu B’Shevat, with broccoli cheese soup and za’atar pita chips on the menu, and others on March 1 at both JCCs, making hamantaschen from scratch.

I have fond memories of my dad exposing me to new flavors and tastes.

Another Jewish bonding opportunity is for families who love to host Shabbat dinners but don’t necessarily love to cook them. Greenebaum will show up at the home with groceries and a menu and facilitate the family preparing dinner together.

“I’ll have activities for the younger kids, and whomever is there works alongside each other to create Shabbat dinner together,” she said.

Another place where Greenebaum is a fixture is Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, where she teaches Israeli cooking at the middle school and runs an afterschool cooking program two days a week, leading students in third through sixth grades in a curriculum of healthy foods from around the world.

“So far this quarter, we went to Italy and China. I incorporate fruits and vegetables into every class, and sometimes we’ll cook from a recipe. Recently we did a citrus tasting. I brought about a dozen varieties from the farmers market, from the kumquat to the pomelo. We ranked them by their levels of sweetness.”

New for 2020: a Together in the Kitchen Facebook group that anyone can join, and where parents can share tips on getting their kids to eat veggies.

Greenebaum is a Los Angeles native and a Peninsula resident for 15 years. She and her husband moved here from Seattle for tech jobs.

She showed an interest in cooking from an a very early age; her favorite childhood toy was her Easy-Bake Oven. Both of her parents cooked. Her mother was more likely to follow recipes and keep to a steady rotation of known family favorites, she said, while her father was the improviser, often exposing his children to new foods.

“My dad had the more flexible schedule, so often he’d be the one to pick me up from school and then cook dinner. He liked to experiment and try different things, and I have fond memories of my dad exposing me to new flavors and tastes,” she said.

Her parents began taking her and her brother to restaurants at a young age, and both sides of her family have owned restaurants. “My dad has memories of coming home and being in his father’s restaurant kitchen, with the chef making him steak and eggs,” she said. “So there are so many good memories of being surrounded by food.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."