Aldine ISD kicked off its new Learn, Grow Cook program this fall. The hands-on program involves fourth and fifth grade students in planting, growing and harvesting their own vegetables and fruits, learning about nutrition, then using the fruits of their labor to prepare nutritious recipes they can share with their families.
Dani Sheffield, executive director of the Child Nutrition Services (CNS) Department (click), and her staff developed the program’s curriculum and themes. Nutrition curriculum resources include U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Team Nutrition initiative, Texas A & M University, and USDA’s My Plate. Sheffield felt that food literacy was a missing piece in “growing” healthy eaters.
“The majority of school–aged children lack the knowledge of where their food comes from and how food is produced and why healthy food is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” said Sheffield. “The goal is to introduce food literacy at an early age. This we hope will expand children‘s food preferences as they experience different flavors, and increase their basic cooking skills.
“More importantly, it provides time for children to interact with food personally and learn about the difference between process foods and natural, healthy foods.”
Student field trips are coordinated and conducted by the CNS dietitian, nutritionist and chef.
Sheffield and her team are already booked for the year. The program proved popular with elementary campuses that have signed on to bring their students over to the M.B. “Sonny” Donaldson Child Nutrition Center where the program takes place. The students from Bussey Elementary School helped launch the program. They visited the center on Friday, Sept. 28.
The students first visited the Learning Lab where CNS staff talked with students about nutrition. Activities had students actively engaged in learning and about food, nutritional value and benefits as well as where food comes from. Once completed, students donned garden gloves to head to the center’s Growing Garden area. With garden tools in hand, they planted and watered their spinach seeds. Students enjoyed the exercise of digging into the earth and laughed, as a few got wet when a classmate had difficulty with the hose.
The group of 25 students then proceeded to the center’s professional-grade teaching kitchen where staff members train in the culinary arts. The CNS chef shared with students the dish they would be making that day — fideo pronto — and guided students on proper cutting and cooking skills as they helped prepare the dish.
He shared where the ingredients comes from. Many quickly identified cilantro as something they were familiar from their moms’ cooking. The chef had the students smell the ingredients and to describe it. He also shared a bit about the history of different ingredients and the cultures where these are popular.
This is also an opportunity to use cooking as a vehicle to gain self-confidence and reinforce many important skills in areas of math (measuring), science (reactions), and literacy (reading ingredients and recipe).
As the dish was cooking, students oohed and ahhed as they saw steam rise and smelled the fideo cooking. Once prepared, students got to eat their creation. Students smiled and several exclaimed, “Delicious!” and “This is awesome!”
Before heading back to their school, each student received a complimentary gift bag that contained seed packets, nutrition theme bracelets, a pencil, and a recipe card for the dish they prepared — many students rejoiced to be able to make the plate at home. The bag also included Learn, Grow, Cook program information to share with their parents.
The department plans to provide the Learn, Grow, Cook initiative for AISD students annually. Staff members are also looking to expand to include parents in the future. But for now, Sheffield rejoices in the fact that students had fun and learned about nutrition.
“The launch of the program was memorable,” said Sheffield. “It was wonderful to hear students‘ excitement and to see them focused as they learned to garden and cook,” said Sheffield. “We want students to have fun, be creative and enjoy gardening as well as to explore different foods that are nutritious. It‘s a step in paving way for children to be healthier, to appreciate food and promote healthy eating within their families and communities.”
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