Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Designing Food Courses for Kids

The school where I teacher "food appreciation" classes has asked me to consider teaching on a stepped-up schedule during the summer.

Up to now, my focus has been mainly on elementary school children enrolled in the after school program. The classes are informal. I've had free range over food topics, from making healthy, whole-grain muffins to putting up our own pickles and sauerkraut to baking macaroni and cheese by way of exploring nutrition labeling.

We always include a story reading that somehow links to our food topic, after which we get to eat whatever we made that day.

The summer clases will be something different. I'll be teaching middle-school kids aged 11 to 14, with two one-and-one-half-hour "major" classes each day and two one-hour "minor" classes. It's been suggested that the "major" classes be devoted to weightier subjects such as health and nutrition, while the "minor" classes could consist more of making fun, summer foods such as ice cream and sorbets.

As far as I can tell, this is something new for the school and I hardly know where to begin. There are so many great issues to tackle. The rise of processed foods. Industrial agriculture. Food production and the environment. The surge of local foods. The meaning of organic. We could spend days just exploring the Safeway across the street and dissecting supermarket design.

Teaching a cooking class during the summer opens whole new vistas of possibilities that don't really exist during the school year. All that fresh produce, fruits and berries, herbs. We could do a whole class just on grilling foods--if they'd let me.

I'm starting an outline now. But I wonder what readers think. If you had carte blanche to design food courses for kids, what would you do?


Tanya said...

Can you do field trips? I'd take them to the farmers market (at Foggy Bottom there's one during the day on a weekday), to take a tour of Whole Foods (they do nutrition related tours, I've seen them with groups of birthday kids), and possibly even out to a working farm. And I'd grow stuff with them. Teach them how to read nutrition facts and recipes. Oh, I'm jealous, it sounds like so much fun!

foodperson said...

Wow. What an assignment, and to a pretty tough age group! I think I'd try to continue your hands-on approach as much as possible and, given that age, really try to get them to slow down and taste their food, have them compare the taste (and nutrition) of packaged or commercially prepared food vs. a real-food equivalent. I'd probably also try to do something wherein they keep track of how many food ads they see on TV or elsewhere and then analyze the results. And though it could be a challenge, try to do everything to show good food is fun! cool! rather than to badmouth crappy food which, esp. at that age, is likely to make it more appealing. Can't wait to see what you decide.

Crazy Daisy said...

First off I just found your blog and I am addicted - to your writing and your food! As for ideas for teaching- anyway to teach about what they can do in their own homes? From making a mini garden in containters or growing sprouts on their window-sill? I think giving them real tools to do it themselves might inspire some. I realize it is harder in the city and lifestyles etc- but it might really connect to some. So just 'food' for thought!

Pattie said...

I know lots of kids in this age group and they are hungry for simple, usable everyday cooking skills. Many of them are learning none of it at home. They don't know how to make a salad. They don't know how to boil water. Make pasta. Cook rice. Make a cup of tea, for goodness sake. They don't know basic knife skills. The don't know how to read a recipe or what basic cooking terms, such as broil, saute or steam mean.

Ed, in all honesty, many (or perhaps even most) of them know nothing. And they are hungry for independence. Concerned about how they will function at college and beyond when they don't know these simple things. And completely lost as to how to learn when there may only be processed, microwavable food in their homes, or they come from a household that relies on prepared, take-out food or restaurant meals.

What you are doing is extremely important.

FoodSciYogi said...

Hi Ed,
It's great to hear that you're devoting your time and energy to such an effort -- thank you!

Occurs to me that it could be a great opportunity to get the kids thinking more about the effort/actions that go into bringing food to their tables and what they can do to ensure that their part in that effort has the least negative impact on animal and environmental health.

I'd be happy to help --- I've had a few experiences teaching kids in SE DC.

Check out my blog: Food Karma Alert http://foodkarmaalert.blogspot.com/


Nicole said...

The first thing I would do is get the school to let me distribute a survey to the kids that will be taking the class because kids in school in the summer probably won't learn anything they didn't have some say in first :-)

Ted said...

So many kids eat poorly because bad foods are "easy" to prepare. Maybe a section on easy food preparation using healthy foods. We all know how easy some of these things are, but kids are not exposed to them in this age of microwaves and fast foods. Also, my kids love seeing where their food comes from (and helping to grow and harvest it).

Ed Bruske said...

Tanya, there has been mention of field trips, but I'm not sure that means getting in a bus and going somewhere. More like walking across the street to the Safeway. I was playing with the idea of having some of the local farmers/food producers pay a visit, or slide shows on different aspects of the local agriculture.

Janet, I really like the idea of having the kids make notes of the food ads they've seen. That could really lead somewhere. We could take food they've seen in the ads and make healthy versions of it.

CD, we have been talking about teaching the kids to plant things. That's a great idea, giving them skills they can use at home, even if it's planting a couple of vegetables in a pot. I don't think this particular school is going to be building a vegetable garden any time soon.

Pattie, those are inspiring words. I think you're right: we should be teaching lots of basic skills. I think this can be incorporated easily into the lesson plans.

Cory, great blog. I've linked to it under "Thinking About Food." I'm hoping to devote some considerable time in the class to issues of animal husbandry in agriculture, ethical treatment of animals, confinement versus free range. I'd love to know more about the work you've done in SE DC.

Nicole, I'm not sure we'll be able to do a survey. But since this is the first year we've done this, I'm sure it will be a learning experience. You have a point: When I went to summer school, I wasn't too happy about it. The trick will be to make this fun for the kids so they don't realize they're learning in the process.

DAD said...