The Kitchen Classroom

By Sarah Pounders

You won't find students sitting at desks in Stephanie Raugust's classroom. Instead, her fifth and sixth students at Pacific Elementary in Davenport, California, spend their mornings cooking lunch for 60 to 80 students and teachers in the school's Food Lab - formerly known as the kitchen. In the process, they learn math, science, and nutrition, and some life skills as well.

Twenty years ago Raugust wanted to replace the traditional, prepackaged, highly processed school meals with menus using products from the local farming community that would excite students' senses and refine their palettes. With the support of the school and community, the Food Lab experiment began.

Each student participates once a week, serving as a manager, baker, prep person, or cook. The manager is responsible for obtaining a count of students eating lunch that day and calculating the amount of food needed. The baker helps to make the dessert for the day. The prep person is involved in preparing the fresh foods - some of which come from the school's own garden, others from local farms. The cook helps prepare the main dish.

All Food Lab activities are closely integrated into the standards-based school curriculum. During planning and preparation, students expand math and science skills, along with learning about the nutritional content of foods and how to plan a well-balanced meal. After cooking the meal, the students learn dining etiquette as they set the table and prepare for the lunch crowd. Education does not take a break while they eat. During lunch, healthy eating habits are reinforced as students participate in special nutrition education activities and lessons.

Parents tell me that after participating in the program, their kids are capable of cooking for themselves and often>correct them about food preparation techniques at home," says Raugust. The experience even turns some kids on to careers in the food industry.

Although the relatively small size of Pacific Elementary School helps in making this type of experience possible, Raugust suggests larger schools could involve students in preparing one portion of the meal, such as a daily fresh salad or soup. Or students could participate once a week or month instead of every day. It doesn't take much to whet a child's appetite for mastering something new, especially when it tastes good.

You'll find loads of activities, resources, and classroom success stories on this theme in our three-part seires Nourinshing the Next Generation.

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