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Teaching Resilience through Healthy Cooking

#16: Meet La'Tara, 3rd grade teacher at Swansea Elementary School

“My students have so much going on in their lives right now. With everything they hear on the news, it’s a lot for them to process. What I like about DUG’s virtual cooking classes is that they allow my students, their parents, and their teacher to get on one call, make a meal together, and enjoy some informal quality time. After the third cooking class, one parent said to me, “This is so fun! I hope we can continue doing this.” It has been a way for us to get together and hang out, which is something that’s missing from a lot of people’s lives right now because of COVID. When we were teaching in-person, my kids would say, “Oh, this is so sad. I can’t hug you!” They couldn’t talk to their friends because of social distancing. 

These classes not only have allowed us to make a meal altogether, but they have also given us a chance to talk about our lives and share what’s going on in each of our worlds. They have helped spur more personal conversations and allowed us to talk outside of the academic room. My students brought their little brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, and other family members to join in. It has been a family affair; no students joined the classes alone. 

DUG’s cooking classes have complimented my normal curriculum. My students have a hard time following multi-step directions and sticking things out till the end. We all follow along as Ms. Riley lists the instructions for each recipe, reinforcing the positive behaviors I am trying to teach my students. When you start with raw vegetables and end with a finished product, can taste it (and it tastes good), it excites my students. They are learning how to follow directions and how to persevere because, in the end, there will be a great prize. It helps build my students’ intrinsic motivation and teaches them that eating healthy is good for you. They are learning that you don’t need extravagant, expensive ingredients to cook a healthy meal. You can use ingredients that come from the earth that are inexpensive, plentiful, and accessible. And you can even grow them yourself!

The students were able to learn about new vegetables they’ve never tried before. One class that blew us all away was when we cooked a pasta recipe with kale. At one point, there was complete silence because everybody was eating. All you could hear was, “This is so good! I never thought kale could be this good!” One of my students’ dad used kale instead of bread the next day to make him a sandwich. They are incorporating lifestyle changes in their own lives and passing them onto the generation above them.

I believe that my students’ understanding of vegetables and healthy eating has changed because of DUG’s cooking classes. Many students thought that vegetables aren’t something they want to eat because they lack flavor and won’t be satisfying enough. Before one of the classes, one of my students said to me, “Ms. Clayton, I think they messed up my bag! Are these people vegetarian? Why isn’t there any meat?” I explained to her that good sources of vitamins, minerals, and healthy calories come from vegetables. I told her that I had recently gone to the grocery store to buy some ground beef, and it was so expensive that I couldn’t afford to buy it. I want my students to learn that there might come a time when we won’t have such easy access to the foods we’re used to eating, but we can still sustain ourselves with the food that comes from the earth, which is better for us. 

The only recipe we cooked that the students didn’t like had radishes and beets in it. They said to me, “Ms. Clayton, can we say something truthfully? This is disgusting!” I explained to them that everyone has a different palette; different people like different things. During another class, a student noticed that some of the carrots had shoots growing out of them. They said, “Can we eat this? It’s deformed! Doesn’t that mean that it has pesticides in it and isn’t good to eat?” I told them that not every carrot grows perfectly out of the ground. That “deformed” carrot is just as nutritious as any other carrot. I told them, “Just peel it, chop it, and eat it!” And they did.

DUG’s cooking classes have built a greater sense of community in my classroom: with my students, parents, and within their family units themselves. We’ve gotten to know each other through sharing family recipes. The students’ ideas of healthy eating and community gardens have been elevated to another level. My students even asked me if we could start gardening at our school and share the produce in their lunchroom with food stations that are labeled with titles such as, “These carrots were provided by the Third Graders.” This program has given my students a sense of ownership and excitement about farming, natural foods, gardening, and community. We’ve even decided to continue the cooking classes all on our own once a month!”

Pictured: La’Tara’s daughter showing off recipes cooked in class

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