As many of my loyal blog readers will remember (even though it’s been awhile), in my last post I wrote about my work with a formalized Food Science class offered at Burlington High School. This week I wanted to share a bit about how one of the elementary schools in our district has integrated cooking into their weekly schedule and their school culture. In particular, I wanted to share five of their strategies that I would consider best practices for starting a cooking program at your own school.
- Be intentional about what you grow in the school garden. Everything planted in the Champlain Elementary School garden is planted with a purpose. Vegetable varieties are often selected so that they can be used specifically in classroom cooking projects or by food service staff in school meals. Crops are strategically planted so that they reach full maturity in late summer and early fall, just in time for students returning to school. Before planting this coming season, put some thought into how your garden space could directly contribute to a handful of concrete cooking projects.
- Appeal to your community for donations. Local grocery stores have provided the school with grant money to acquire cooking supplies and gift certificates so that teachers can pick up ingredients for cooking projects. Teachers on the Outdoor Planning Committee have also leveraged relationships with district food service staff to assist with acquiring ingredients, though appeals to parents can yield just as productive results (for both foodstuffs and general supplies). Local kitchen stores can also be a good source of high quality donations or discounted items.
- If you can, have enough cooking implements for half your class. The key to Champlain’s culinary program is their mobile cooking cart equipped with enough cutting boards, box graters and whisks (just to name a few items) for an entire classroom. Having a large, well organized, collection of peelers, knives, measuring cups and spoons allows everyone to participate fully, though it’s not necessary for every single student to have their own rolling pin or spatula. In fact, when leading cooking activities I generally have students work in pairs and share tools; I find this promotes teamwork and cuts down on clutter and distractions.
- Have clear procedures that both teachers and volunteers understand. Cooking with a large group can be challenging and having an extra adult in the room can go a long way. Have clear standard operating procedures for cooking activities that both teachers and volunteers are trained on before they begin facilitating culinary projects. Have a written document that can easily be referenced or host a semi-annual training for both teachers and volunteers.
- Dedicate a set amount of time for cooking projects. Every Friday, at least four classes set aside an hour to participate in a cooking activity. While some teachers will pursue cooking with their classes on other days of the week, Fridays have become a set day where a volunteer or I will come in to help with these projects. Having a scheduled day each week where folks know they can jointly tackle a cooking activity with their students has created a sense of feasibility and sustained excitement for culinary projects, to the point that many would consider Cooking Cart Fridays an integral part of school culture.