FoodCorps Friday- Measuring Up: Teaching Kids to Love Cooking
By, Sara Black, Carrollton City Schools School Nutrition Program FoodCorps service member
I can’t remember when I first learned to love working with food. Maybe it was every time my grandmother came to visit and taught me how to make shortbread. She used three ingredients–butter, sugar, and flour–and showed us how to work them together by hand. I didn’t even like shortbread, but every time she came, it was with sticky hands that I learned the recipe that I will remember her by.
Or maybe it was every Thanksgiving, when working in the kitchen meant I didn’t have to clean the house for company. At first, I thought I was a genius for getting out of chores, but I was learning to love making the food that would gather the rest of the family around our table every year.
When I was asked to start a Culinary Club for 2nd and 3rd graders at my service school, Carrollton Elementary School, I was nervous and excited all at once. I had very little prior experience teaching and working with kids. Would anyone sign up? What fundamental skills should I teach them? Will I have an impact on their potential for a lifelong love of working with food? Where do I start?
Three factors determine the recipes I choose every week:
What is the Harvest of the Month? Structuring recipes around the highlighted fruit or vegetable each month means we are always learning about seasonal produce.
Is this a recipe that can be served as part of the School Breakfast or School Lunch menu? If a recipe is well-received, will they ever see it again at school? If we can serve it in the cafeteria, every child at Carrollton Elementary School will have the opportunity to taste it.
Can this recipe be easily adapted? One thing I always try to impress on my students is that recipes are flexible. I want them to understand that they can change ingredients based on personal preference or cultural context.
Determining the recipe to work with is just the first step! From there, I have to decide how to use it as an opportunity for skill-building. Are there knife skills involved? Should we discuss the importance of measuring? Can reading a recipe build on our development of literacy? Can we apply our math skills to increase the yield? The answer to all of these questions is “Yes!”
Inside and outside of Culinary Club, one of the most exciting things about serving with FoodCorps has been all of the innovative ways I have discovered that you can integrate cooking and nutrition education into the school day without competing for the critical instruction time that is devoted to math, literacy, and STEM. With the support and vision of several amazing teachers, administrators, and School Nutrition personnel, I’m excited for where my service will lead and the healthy school environment that we can create to give these kids all of the life skills they need.
Research shows that kids who are exposed to and work with healthy foods are more likely to try them and ultimately display a more positive attitude toward eating healthy. My experience cooking with these kids has overwhelmingly proven this to be true. Don’t let me mislead you–my kids have not forgiven me for every recipe that I have brought to them. “We’re making guacamole out of what?!” “This tastes like something you would get at a water park.” Time and again, even when my students didn’t like the final product, they still enjoyed the process. They were excited to prepare the food, even if they were hesitant when it came time to do the actual tasting.
I’ll end with a few quick notes for anyone who is interested in cooking with kids in an education center or at home but has as little experience as I did when I started this journey:
Every child can help. Tearing herbs, squeezing citrus, and stirring are ways to engage even the youngest chefs!
Exposure, exposure, exposure! Seeing a fruit or vegetable transform from a whole plant to the “green stuff” on their plate helps take out the mystery that makes for nervous tasters!
Build on familiarity. Start with recipes that are likely to go over well to build interest before tackling something new!
Focus on the process, not on the outcome. Just inviting kids into the cooking process is an amazing step. Some recipes will not be well-received. Do not get discouraged!
Try, try, and try again. Changing attitudes and behaviors is a gradual process.
Celebrate the small victories. A parent told me she had to run all around the grocery store to find red pears because of a lesson I did with her daughter. That was one instance of one student making a change. But it all starts there.
“You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance.” –Katie Kacvinsky