At each session of the Food 4 Thought afterschool program, volunteers work with the seventh-graders on new cooking skills and healthy options.
By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools
A group of seventh-graders at Edythe J. Hayes Middle School stores up plenty of “Food 4 Thought” through the after-school program organized by a PTA mom. Gathering in the kitchen classroom, they get a pinch of math, a sprinkling of nutrition advice and a dash of cooking practice in a six-session series.
Kaye Hughes developed the program after Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL) training last fall. Her goals: to improve student achievement, to involve other parents and to make a lasting impact. After a pilot effort in the spring, she set up two series for students this school year.
“They gain some self-confidence that they know what they’re doing in the kitchen, and they’re getting some extra one-on-one time with a bunch of other adults,” said Hughes, who lines up volunteer helpers and guests every other Thursday, such as chef Jim Olert and culinary students from Southside Technical Center.
“We’re trying to get them to eat healthier and make healthier choices, and take the message home. They have a sense of accomplishment by contributing to their family in a positive way,” she added.
Joshua Prado, for instance, recently made a fruit salad for his mother, sister and uncle. “They liked it, and they were proud of me,” he reported.
He and his mother also completed the Food 4 Thought shopping challenge – finding ingredients for a family meal of grilled chicken salad with a $10 spending limit. He enjoyed the class trip to Kroger, too, where students considered nutritional choices on the shelves and saw the value of buying in bulk.
“It’s been really helpful,” Joshua said of the afternoon program.
In the latest session, Diana Doggett of the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Office and dietitian Nancy Hiner of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department showed students how to make whole-grain muffins and toasted egg-disk sandwiches.
Before the youngsters tied on their aprons, math teacher Audrey West took up the muffin recipe and reviewed some basics of ingredient measurements and proportional reasoning. “We want you to learn how fractions work with cooking,” she said as she handed out worksheets.
The students also are learning how to compare unit prices, calculate meal costs and determine calories per serving.
“They’re starting to make those connections,” West said. “What they’re doing in the classroom will actually transfer to when they go home at night.”
At the start of her demonstration, Doggett also stressed the importance of measuring carefully whether with liquid or dry ingredients. “We do not pat flour down – that’s one rule to pay attention to,” she told the youngsters encircling the table.
She shared more tips after they divided into work groups, such as breaking an egg in a separate bowl in case the shell chips and not over-mixing the muffin batter. Within the hour-and-a-half session, the tweens had mastered a couple of quick and easy breakfast options.
Each week, the 12 to 15 participants tackle a different dish, including appetizers and salads, baked sweet potato fries, green beans and desserts.
“We’re making a recipe in the classroom, and the kids are all tasting it. When they go home, they take a bag of the ingredients plus the recipe,” Hughes explained. “They’re also learning more about what’s supposed to be on your plate in terms of the number of fruits and vegetables and meat and dairy. They’re learning how to make a well-balanced plate of food.”
At the final session Nov. 15, families are invited to come help prepare pizza with healthy toppings.
Andrea Baker, who teaches an Introduction to Life Skills class, covers a lot of ground and can only devote three days to actual cooking during a nine-week rotation, so she’s pleased at how students benefit from Food 4 Thought.
“This is an extension to what they’ve already learned in class, and it’s more hands-on,” she said. “The more opportunities they have to be in the kitchen, the more comfortable they are doing it at home by themselves.”
(Photos from FCPS)