Teaching Kids About Food: Inside a Successful Preschool Cooking Class
|June 6, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Cooking with kids, Food education, Food Revolution, School wellness programs|
Tomorrow is my twins’ preschool graduation. Yes, my babies are off to kindergarten in the fall–and I expect to get a bit teary at the ceremony. It’s been a great school for our family. And I’m almost wishing that my kids could be there next year to take part in the fun weekly cooking class that’s been expanding students’ taste buds.
Launched last fall, Cooking Kiddos is the brainchild of teacher Alicen Stonebraker, a.k.a. Miss Ali. Challenged to come up with interesting ideas for an after-school program, Ali thought it made sense to utilize the school’s commercial kitchen. At first, she cooked basic dishes like spaghetti for the kids. But after attending a workshop for Color Me Healthy, a nutrition program developed for preschool-age children in childcare settings, she felt it was time to get her wee students involved.
“At the workshop, the real lack of food education in the school system was discussed,” Ali explains. “I’d never thought about the need for food education in school. I just assumed that children learned about food from their parents. Then I considered how I grew up. We would have Hamburger Helper and Coke for dinner. That’s when I realized that [educating kids about healthy eating] might be up to me.”
One tricky part of Cooking Kiddos is finding recipes that are easy and inexpensive, don’t take too long, and offer lots of opportunity for kids’ participation. With no budget for the class, Miss Ali relied on food donations from parents. A week before each cooking session, she sends out an ingredient “wish list” via email and, most weeks, families quickly step up to contribute.
Thanks to these donations, the school spent a scant $25 for the Cooking Kiddos program, which included the purchase of five kid-safe veggie choppers. At the end of the year, Ali put together a Cooking Kiddos cookbook with recipes from the class (think Sweet Potato Patties and Apple Eggrolls) plus tips for getting kids to eat them. She sold to cookbooks to parents for $10 a pop, raising a total of $100 that will be used to fund next year’s class.
“Some schools may say, ‘We can’t afford to do a cooking class!’” notes Ali. “But if everyone chips in a little, it becomes really do-able.”
With 20 or more kids (ages 4 to 6) in her Cooking Kiddos class, it’s impossible to keep them occupied every single second. So she lets them talk among themselves and play quietly as they wait for their turn to help. Ali feels her kiddos are at the perfect age for learning to cook, explaining, “They are mature enough to help in the kitchen without running in and trying to turn on the stove.”
To see Miss Ali’s fabulous Cooking Kiddos in action, check out this 1-minute video:
I personally want to say THANK YOU to Miss Ali for all that she has done to make Cooking Kiddos a success. Thought it’s been a lot of work for her, the pay off has been huge. Being involved in the food prep and eating with their peers has made the kids open to tasting new foods. According to Ali, some parents have been surprised to learn that their “PB&J kid” was gobbling down veggies like cucumbers and red peppers during class. She really feels successful when she sees foods eaten in Cooking Kiddos appearing in her students’ lunchboxes.
Next week, I will be featuring Miss Ali’s best tips for starting a cooking class at your school. They are really good—so please don’t forget to check back!
And if you believe that food education should be offered in ALL schools, please sign this petition, a joint project of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Food Day.
If you appreciate educators like Miss Ali who are making the effort to teach kids about healthy eating, please leave a comment down below to say THANKS! I’d love to give her lots of shout outs so that she understands what a truly wonderful thing that she is doing!