When Sahana Vij was 5, her mom taught her how to make French toast. Together they made soup and enchiladas, and volunteered at a Seattle shelter, serving and sharing meals with families in need.
"Food is a major, big, important way to communicate with people," Vij, now an 18-year-old freshman at the University of California, Irvine, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "Food helps connect us."
Volunteering with her mother inspired Vij to start cooking — and sharing the food she makes with others.
Growing up in Redmond, Washington, Vij taught herself how to bake, trying new recipes every week. "I'd always make it for other people," she says. "My way of communicating with other people was through food."
The Seattle Times
While still in high school, Vij wrote her cookbook, "Bake Away" — which will be available October 26 in stores such as Target, Whole Foods and Kroger's.
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Vij is donating all of her author proceeds to the non-profit, No Kid Hungry. For every $1 donated, No Kid Hungry serves 10 meals.
"You need to eat," she says. "You need to eat breakfast, you need to eat lunch, you need to fuel your body, especially while you're learning."
If her first printing run sells out, Vij hopes to provide kids with about 700,000 meals.
"As many as possible," Sahana says. "It feels like a necessity to me."
Shawn Vij Sahana Vij
On Father's Day, she took a copy of her book to Thomas Keller, chef at The French Laundry. His testimonial on her website says, "This young baker gives me hope for the future."
Vij wants to change the world through baking. After college, she hopes to earn an MBA and open her own bakery — and plans to donate a portion of the proceeds to No Kid Hungry.
"I want to be able to make an impact on the world," she says. "I hope that I can inspire others to keep creating, and I hope I can continue to bake and share what I've made with other people."