Teacher to teacher

Cooking in the classroom

If someone asked you to close your eyes and imagine the smell of freshly baked bread, the savory aroma of your favorite sauce simmering away on the stove or the sweet taste of a homemade chocolate chip cookie, you might think of growing up in your home or preparing to dine in your favorite restaurant. Now imagine cooking those scrumptious treats in your elementary or junior high school classroom with your students so that when they inhale the scent of healthy fresh foods they are transported back to what they learned in the classroom.

The idea of cooking with students in the classroom may seem a little intimidating at first, so here are some basic steps to cover before you begin. Make sure to get permission from your principal before beginning any cooking activities. The next step is to ask parents if their child has any allergies. Tell them that you will be preparing different kinds of healthy food with the class and the students will taste the food when it is done.

Now that you have the green light to go ahead and cook, you will need some tools. Two main items you will need to prepare hot food are a hot plate and a toaster oven. With a hot plate you can cook anything that you normally would cook on a stove top. This includes but is not limited to sauce, soup, pancakes and vegetable stir fry. A toaster oven will help you make things such as breads, cakes, nachos, roasted vegetables and more. Or you can limit yourself to preparing dishes that do not require cooking, such as salads and hummus.

Before you begin cooking with your students, try to fully immerse them in all aspects of the food. Let them play with it, smell, touch, taste and give you examples of how to cook with it. Write down their comments and you may be surprised by what they already know.

I know you might be thinking, “When will I find the time to add cooking to my already busy schedule?” The brilliant thing about cooking is that it incorporates all subject areas for any grade level. Consider, for example, the study of apples that many elementary school teachers focus on in the fall. You may read books about apples, which satisfies the literacy standards. In the area of social studies, you can teach students or have students research where apples are grown and imported from around the United States. Art is a wonderful way to get younger students learning about a subject. The class can cut the apples in half to find the star that is hidden inside each apple and create apple prints by dipping the apples in paint. Class trips can be taken to grocery stores or restaurants to further deepen the understanding between the community and the food the students are studying.

To teach math and science while cooking with younger students, themes can go from counting the ingredients, identifying shapes of foods and measuring fractions with tablespoons and cups, to learning about the amount of time it takes to cook a meal. Parents can become involved by providing recipes from their culture. This brings in opportunities to discuss the history of foods, and where they originated. In fact, there are thematic units of study based solely on breads from all around the world.

Health and nutrition can be introduced with every new food you cook with your class. This can include teaching about the various food groups by showing the food pyramid. Many children do not have enough knowledge about the recommended amounts or types of food they should be eating. Students can be introduced to new ideas such as vitamin and mineral content in food and begin to learn what each vitamin does in our body. Think about how powerful our job is. We have the ability to teach students that by eating healthy, tasty foods their bodies are able to help keep their immune system strong. Just imagine how many students might be more encouraged to eat fresh fruit daily!

By cooking with kids, we get a chance to introduce healthy food choices they might miss otherwise. I recommend starting to incorporate cooking with a food with which you feel comfortable. If it is something that you, as a teacher, enjoy, then your passion will shine through as you enrich the lives of your students through the joy of cooking.

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