Wednesday, December 22, 2010

After School Special: Kids Cook!

I love working with kids and food. (Now, if I can just find a job that pays me to do it....)

In early November, I began helping out as a volunteer food educator through the Capital Area Food Bank. I'd signed up as a Kids Cook assistant on Wednesday afternoons and would be helping Stacy, one of the program's developers, run the 4-week after school program that teaches kids basic nutrition concepts and how to make healthy, low-cost snacks for themselves. I'd taught a few youth cooking classes before, but I've tended to work with slightly older kids. I learned my first afternoon at the nearby elementary school that the 8-10-year-olds had been in testing all day. (Read: lots of pent up energy ready to let loose. Oh boy....)

Week one's session focused on identifying different food groups and introducing students to the idea of balanced eating. Under Stacy's patient guidance, we tried to "pack our snacks" with at least three food groups, using ingredients that included grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy. After much face-making and loud insistence that "I'm not gonna eat that, it's nasty!" I couldn't help but notice third and fourth graders awkwardly grinning and asking for second helpings of the bean-corn-cheddar-pineapple-salsa mix on wheat thins. (Some even took ziploc bags of the mixture home.) As we nibbled, we discussed things like how things tasted in comparison to their preconceptions, whether they would make it at home, what ingredients they might change. Some would add more pineapple, others might leave out the cheese... There are few things I love more than trying new foods and helping people figure out their personal eater identity.

The second week, Stacy let me take the lead, and wouldn't you know it, we were focusing on whole grains. These youngsters who were unabashed and loud and silly as they came into the room, as they flailed around during our warm-up and stretching, as they poked and teased each other through most of the hour-long session, well, these same kids turned bright pink in the face when I mentioned fiber. It was hilarious. "Aw, Miss Ibti, you don't need to talk about that!" they squealed. We agreed to the statement that it "helps to clean you out" and moved on to the afternoon's recipe: trail mix and yoghurt parfait. This one was even more of a hit than the previous week's salsa, I noted, as students vigorously stirred the sunflower seeds, cheerios, chocolate chips, raisins, and dried cranberries before scooping the homemade trail mix between layers of vanilla yoghurt.

The final week we focused on calcium's role in building strong teeth and bones and learning to determine which foods are high in calcium. (Milk: excellent source of calcium; cheese-flavored goldfish: not a good source of calcium.) Our final session ended with the group assembling "pizza kabobs" with chunks of whole wheat bagels, mozzarella cheese, and bell peppers -- "Ahem, nobody who looks like they might try and poke their neighbor or start a sword fight will be given a bamboo skewer" -- dipped in pasta sauce. I have to say, for a crowd that insisted they hated vegetables, the big bag of green, yellow, red, and orange bell pepper chunks mysteriously disappeared. What a fun group. I'm going to miss those kids....

As we move close to a new year and you're considering ways to make a difference, I'd encourage folks interested in food education to check out the next round of volunteer programs starting soon at the Capital Area Food Bank.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment! Just making sure this isn't spam.... Thanks for your patience. :)Ibti