Culturally Relevant Cooking Classes Inspire Kids’ Creativity
When COVID-19 shifted PS 17 Henry David Thoreau Elementary School students in New York from in-person to virtual learning, the parents and staff on the school’s Wellness Council had to re-imagine their Action for Healthy Kids grant project to accommodate and support students at home. Originally, the grant funds were earmarked for a garden club through which students would learn in an outdoor garden and hydroponic lab to plant and grow ingredients to be utilized in cooking classes. With students at home, the Council knew it would be important to engage the students at the Title I school to encourage healthy eating during these uncertain times.
With the help of hands-on, kids cooking organization, Allergic to Salad, students were introduced to virtual cooking classes at home. The menu of foods was specially designed to be representative of their Queens community, known as the most diverse county in the entire country, with 138 different languages spoken in the borough. PS 17 wanted to celebrate its large Spanish and Bengali student population, with recipes specifically reflective of the cultures that included curried pumpkin soup, naan, falafel, and more.
During the hour-long virtual cooking classes, students learned to measure and prep the ingredients so that they could cook the meal later with their families. There were also classes where kids made an entire meal from start to finish. All ingredients were selected to be readily available or pantry staples, with substitution options for ease of participation. Wellness Council Mom Amybeth Whissel witnessed her six-year-old son Arlo, a typically selective eater, taste black beans for the first time after making the black bean burger recipe. Arlo tried the burger without hesitation after mentioning his friends at school ate black beans and he wanted to try them, too.
Amybeth also saw the pride and ownership Arlo took preparing meals during the classes, inspiring what she hopes is a lifelong love of healthy cooking and eating. Amybeth told Action for Healthy Kids, “We’re so grateful for this funding, which has allowed the wellness team to spread more awareness about healthy eating and healthy habits in general. Being at the epicenter of this pandemic and being a Title I school with a majority of students from low-income households, we’ve seen that it’s even more important for all of our families to find ways to prioritize [their] health. By providing inspiration and ideas through these wonderful plant-based cooking classes, in addition to the wellness team’s social media posts, and pre-Covid event tabling [at the health and wellness fair] encouraging healthy eating, this grant has helped us to normalize cooking healthy meals and eating nutritious foods. In the virtual cooking classes, I saw my own kid gain confidence in his abilities in the kitchen. It gives me hope that he will continue to grow and further deepen his connection to eating wholesome and nutrient-rich foods.”
This grant was made possible with funding from GoGo squeeZ.