A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Arlington Cooking Club helps fifth-graders learn their way around a kitchen – and more

 

Rolling out several trays of meatballs for the minestrone soup gave Cooking Club members a chance to practice their multiplication skills. (Photos by Tammy L. Lane)

Rolling out several trays of meatballs for minestrone soup gave Arlington Elementary School Cooking Club members a chance to practice their multiplication skills. (Photos by Tammy L. Lane)

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

Children from Lexington’s Arlington Elementary stirred in some excitement and added a dash of love while preparing dinner for their families to cap a seven-week after-school series. With volunteers providing nearly one-on-one guidance at Arlington Christian Church, the seven students served up a tasty meal – showing they had learned their way around the kitchen.

“Whenever my mom needs help or she goes to a meeting, I can help her cook. And if there’s nothing on the table and I’m starving, I could cook for my sisters,” said fifth-grader Maleni Casas, the second-oldest in a family with four girls.

The Arlington Cooking Club, which this fall met on Tuesday afternoons, has operated for several years. Linda Prater, the school’s Family Resource Center coordinator, selects a limited number of students based on short essays. Maleni, for instance, wrote that while she could already make eggs and can help with cakes and bread, she looked forward to learning how to prepare more foods. Ten-year-old classmate Wendyam Samne, who moved here from Africa about a year ago, also hoped to branch out with American recipes such as roast chicken and pasta.

In response to Wendyam’s essay, the leaders developed a lesson about how foods prepared in the United States are influenced by immigrants – for example, Chinese on the West Coast, Italian in New York, Spanish in the Southwest, and African and Caribbean in the South. They also covered nutrition and food safety.

Jacqui Denegri, a nutrition educator with the Fayette County Extension Office, helped two girls flip the pineapple cakes hot out of the oven.

Jacqui Denegri, a nutrition educator with the Fayette County Extension Office, helped two girls flip pineapple cakes hot out of the oven.

“They talked about why it’s important to wash your hands,” Wendyam recalled. “If you get germs on your food and then eat it, you could get sick.”

Volunteer Janet Timberlake, who offered to sew aprons for the children a few years ago, now runs the outreach program for her church.
“We have a big fellowship hall and a good-size kitchen, and we’re close to the school so it works out well,” she said.

Her crew walks a few blocks to the elementary each week to escort students back to the basement, where they spend about two hours absorbing kitchen basics and practicing their craft.

“We don’t want them to learn bad habits. The rules are ‘be clean, be careful, be kind.’ We’re really careful with the cleanliness and the knife cuts and using the stove,” Timberlake said, noting how volunteers spot the children when measuring ingredients and handling utensils.

A Cooking Club student helps wash lettuce for a Caesar salad.

A Cooking Club student helps wash lettuce for a Caesar salad.

“We do very brief lessons or points of interest while they’re cooking,” she added. “We try to emphasize fresh foods and make everything from scratch. We try to promote healthy eating. It’s a good learning experience for them.”

Jacqui Denegri, a nutrition educator with the Fayette County Extension Office, also lends a hand. Before the family dinner, she organized the youngsters to fold napkins and put out place settings at tables in the fellowship hall. “They do everything from make the placemats to decorate the tables with paper flowers to write the invitations,” she said. The kids also took home their chef hats and aprons.

Earlier, during a trial run with the pineapple cake, Denegri focused on the amount of sugar called for.

“They learn how to follow a recipe and learn the proper measurements,” she said. “Just being able to do that is a major accomplishment. Everybody’s on the same level, and they develop a close friendship.”

The children started out the series by putting together a simple after-school snack. Maleni’s favorite was cooked apples sprinkled with cinnamon, while Wendyam was keen on the personal-size pizza. They moved along to more complicated dishes, and the finale meal included fruit salad, Caesar salad, minestrone soup with meatballs, sloppy joes, and pineapple upside-down cake for dessert.

“On the whole, everything has been popular,” Timberlake said. “It’s gratifying that the kids usually try everything they make and, for the most part, like it.”

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools.

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