Kids learn about cooking, healthy eating in school cafeterias

The locavore scene is thriving in Vermont which is not only good for the environment, local farmers, and the local economy, but it also means Vermonters are consuming foods that are better for their health. At the same time, however, there are an alarming number of Vermonters who are food insecure – meaning the availability of nutritionally adequate food, or the ability to acquire such food, is limited or uncertain. According to Hunger Free Vermont, 85,000 Vermonters are food insecure – including 27,100 children. One area that Hunger Free Vermont focuses on to help combat this reality is the school meals program. Here, Hunger Free Vermont offers opportunities for nutrition education.

In Shelburne there are some excellent examples of how Hunger Free Vermont works to spread throughout the state. School meal programs have the opportunity to teach kids about cooking, trying new foods, portion sizes, and eating balanced meals. At the Shelburne Community School, they also incorporate the school garden into this learning opportunity, teaching kids to cook with the produce they grow. “Last October, I had the pleasure of visiting the Shelburne Community School to cook a tomato sauce with the students,” remarked Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont and Shelburne resident. “It was fun to see the kids cooking with vegetables that they grew themselves and enjoying being creative in the kitchen. It is this sort of approach that incorporates the meal program into the school curriculum that develops life-long healthy eating habits for our kids.”

Last week the students in Shelburne did another school wide cooking activity. They made pear compotes which was an opportunity for kids to taste and grind different spices. “Students of all ages love these cooking activities. They enjoy the whole process—the peeling and the chopping and, of course, the tasting,” said Randy Sweeney, a parent volunteer and coordinator of the farm-to-school program called SCS FEED. “They love getting their hands on these foods and ultimately it makes them much more interested to try them! Since we do many of these activities in the cafeteria, it’s also a great way to enhance the connection between students and the cafeteria.”

Our neighbors in Hinesburg recently completed one of Hunger Free Vermont’s Learning Kitchen series which was funded by a Shelburne, Charlotte, Hinesburg Interfaith Projects (SCHIP) grant. The Learning Kitchen (TLK) is a six-week class offered to youth and adults in communities throughout the state.  Participants receive instruction in meal planning, budgeting, shopping, and cooking from area chefs and trained nutrition educators. The class in Hinesburg was taught as part of an afterschool program at Hinesburg Community School and all of the students remarked in their final evaluations that what they liked best about TLK was the opportunity to cook. Plus, one student said that after completing TLK she is eating, “a lot healthier than before,” while another student remarked that she is, “eating more fruit.”

Part of the TLK class is to teach participants about substituting ingredients in recipes depending on what is available. For example, on veggie frittata day in class, TLK instructors will tell students that they can use different vegetables depending on what is in season. So, although the recipe may call for broccoli, in April they may want to swap out broccoli for asparagus from their garden, CSA, or farmer’s market.

As Vermonters embrace the local food movement, it is important to remember that in many Vermont communities, the school is the biggest restaurant in town. It is a missed opportunity to not make sure each of our school cafeterias are opportunities for learning and enjoying local foods. It is a win-win-win-win for our children, farmers, environment, and economy.


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