At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Cooking with Kids was operating programs in 19 public, charter, and tribal PreK-8th grade schools, providing hands-on cooking lessons, tasting lessons and cafeteria promotions throughout the year. With the goal of supporting healthy eating efforts at home, the cooking classes were not only for the children, but they also provided a welcoming environment for family members to share their expertise.
Outside of the classroom, Cooking with Kids also works with school nutrition staff, coordinating guest visits from local chefs and farmers. Through these visits, the nutrition staff are introduced to locally-sourced and seasonal produce, and they’re taught how to incorporate these ingredients into scratch-cooked meals.
By first exposing kids to new ingredients in the classroom and then teaching staff how to prepare the same ingredients in the cafeteria, Cooking with Kids creates a classroom-to-kitchen bridge, whereby students become familiar with new foods before they end up on their lunch tray, increasing the chances they’ll try (and enjoy) them.
In March 2020, when the pandemic began, Cooking with Kids’ Executive Director, Anna Farrier, worried that students would not get the same education and experience in a remote-learning environment.
She shared about the teaching kitchens that make Cooking with Kids so unique, stating, “We started Cooking with Kids in 1995, so it’s been 25 years now. Schools have actually built out classrooms for us, which is pretty incredible. We work in some classrooms that look like mini commercial kitchens.”
Since students would no longer be in the physical school environment, with access to the same resources, Farrier and her team modified the lessons to make sure each student could continue their nutrition education, and like many other programs, they went virtual.
“We’re still meeting with the same number of kids in the same classrooms in the same schools, but rather than them coming to the Cooking with Kids physical classroom, they’re coming to the Cooking with Kids virtual classroom,” said Farrier.
As the learning environment has shifted, so to have the lessons. Now, instead of asking kids to make the same salad at home, the instructions may be “find a fruit or vegetable in your house. Or if you’d rather draw a fruit or vegetable, draw one instead,” explained Farrier.
Thanks to these changes, children across households, with varying access to ingredients, can continue participating in meaningful ways, and better yet – the outcomes are just as great! By the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Cooking with Kids had successfully completed each of their planned lessons, from teaching kids to “eat the rainbow” to introducing them to their local farmers.
With the holidays coming up, Cooking with Kids plans to launch their winter-themed unit where they’ll celebrate food traditions from around the world. Despite being in a virtual environment, one thing Farrier is looking forward to are the Sprouts ingredient kits for families. Through the Neighborhood Grant they were awarded in 2020, Farrier was able to purchase fresh ingredients from Sprouts to create these kits.
“With all of our schools, we’re supplying the ingredient kits for families who couldn’t get the food otherwise so that they can participate,” said Farrier.
One of the dishes in the winter unit are vegetable tamales, a favorite among the children. This dish will be taught at the upcoming Family Cooking Night, but Cooking with Kids also granted early access to the recipe.
Even in the face of a pandemic, Cooking with Kids is determined to keep moving forward with nutrition education. Their goal has always been to educate and empower children and families to make informed food choices, and they plan to keep this work going for years to come.