Introducing Students To Healthy Foods From Around The World

Introducing Students To Healthy Foods From Around The World

Tue 31 Jan 2012

Story by Lynn Walters

Cooking with Kids (CWK) encourages children to take an active role in taking care of themselves. Over the past sixteen years, CWK has introduced over 15,000 Santa Fe public school children to delicious, affordable, healthy foods from cultures around the world. We are excited that scientific research has shown that Cooking with Kids really works! Children participating in CWK significantly increased their preferences for fruits and vegetables compared with children who were not participating in the program in Santa Fe Public Schools.

Cooking with Kids began with the intent of improving school food. Our experience in the professional culinary world led us to believe that if we just cooked fresh, tasty, and beautiful food, children would eagerly eat it and love it. We quickly learned that many children had no experience with real, healthy foods, and were more interested in eating frozen tater tots than fresh green beans! This, along with the institutional history of school food, presented significant roadblocks.

We then discovered food acceptance studies that found that children’s participation in preparing new foods led to greater interest in eating what they had made. So... we started cooking in classrooms and developing CWK recipes and curriculum. We quickly adapted the recipes for use in school cafeterias. For example, in the classroom children make fresh spinach and white pasta from scratch for the Green and White Fettuccine with Tomato Basil Sauce lesson, while the school lunch recipe calls for dry spinach and white fettuccine.

CWK staff members work closely with cafeteria staff, and over the years a trusting, collaborative relationship has developed. Judi Jaquez, Santa Fe Public Schools Student Nutrition Director, explained:

We are so fortunate to have a partnership with Cooking with Kids. Students who have participated in the cooking classes are much more open to trying new foods. When they recognize a food that they have helped to prepare in class and it is being served in the cafeteria, they tend to have a very positive response.

The Cooking with Kids staff is key to the success of offering CWK lunches in the cafeteria. In many cases, the foods are unfamiliar to cafeteria managers and staff, who need to be exposed to the new flavors and preparation techniques, just like the students. Often the recipes require more chopping of fresh ingredients. However, if the dish is well received the staff feels rewarded for their extra effort.

In general, we try to work on student acceptance of fruits and vegetables by offering beautiful, fresh salads using local greens and sprouts. We also offer fruit daily, using fresh or frozen as budget allows. Instead of focusing on “bad foods” to avoid, this positive approach helps to make the serving line colorful and appealing and helps students to develop better eating habits.

The joy of seeing students eating healthy meals is the great part of this program—all the regulations and paperwork and restrictions are the challenges!

About the author: Lynn Walters is founder and executive director of Cooking with Kids, Inc. Click here to learn more about Cooking with Kids.


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