Westview Elementary School is making some headway when it comes to students gaining knowledge about growing food and learning skills to cook with it.
“Kids in the Kitchen (KIK) is a six-week food skills program for elementary students that is one of several programs I run in my role for School District 47,” said food literacy coordinator Vanessa Sparrow.
The aim of the Food Literacy Program is to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy food choices for themselves, their communities and the environment, using a range of hands-on, seed to plate lessons and activities.
“I also support teachers to use school food gardens as outdoor classrooms in which all kinds of curricular-connected topics can be taught,” added Sparrow.
She teaches cooking skills to small groups of students such as knife safety and cutting skills, how to read a recipe and cooking snacks using seasonal ingredients.
“We start with really basic things, like salads, kale chips and smoothies, and then progress to baked goods, such as brownies, and other cooked foods, such as homemade pizzas and quesadillas,” said Sparrow. “We might even grow our own microgreens at school to use in our smoothies, or use local ingredients to make fruit leather in the dehydrator. Knowing how to feed yourself well is an essential life skill for health and well-being.”
She also believes that with just a few skills and some basic knowledge, “being able to cook for yourself opens up a whole world of pleasurable experience that can be creative, rewarding, and also something that can be shared with others.”
There is also a global focus to knowing where our food comes from and how it is grown, she adds.
“This awareness helps with making informed choices about what to eat, and also provides an important understanding of and appreciation for people who produce these ingredients, and the land they grow them on,” said Sparrow.
The program, piloted last year at Westview Elementary, is now in its third round and has been successful so far with students, according to Sparrow.
“Many of the students ask to come back and do it all again,” she said. “We once made a big batch of black bean brownies for students to share with their classmates, with a few saying they were the best brownies they'd ever tasted. It was fun to see the looks on their faces when we told them they were made with black beans.
"Kids in the Kitchen is a fairly new program, and is now being implemented at Edgehill Elementary School, too.”
Sparrow’s long term goal is to have cooking groups going in all the schools.
“But now that it’s spring, my focus is on getting all my garden activities going again,” said Sparrow. “I try to focus on gardening in the spring and fall, and do more cooking activities in the winter, which seems to be working well so far.”