Something magical happens when you bring kids and food together in the classroom. Perhaps it’s the prospect of eating good food, perhaps the change of pace and sense of discovery. Either way, cooking at school is a bit like a field trip, but without the hassle of recruiting volunteers or organizing busses.
Kids’ genuine enthusiasm isn’t the only great thing about cooking in the classroom: there’s a lot to learn about and to teach. Science, math, reading, communication, history, and food systems can easily be woven into a cooking class.
The sticking point for most? It’s intimidating to corral 20 or more kids into a cooking class. That’s where we come in. We’ve already been there and made the mistakes so you don’t have to.
The basics: Have a solid plan
Items to consider:
- Food allergies, intolerances and restrictions. This information is often already collected at the beginning of the school year. Be mindful that some students may have food restrictions due to their religion, such as pork, which are not allergies.
- Equipment. Cooking in the classroom can mean different things depending on your school. Some have access to a full kitchen with all the bells and whistles and some get creative to bring the “kitchen” to the classroom. Both methods work wonderfully. And you can do more in the classroom than you may think (trust us, we’ve done it all!). Equipment such as mixing bowls, cutting boards, knives, blenders, electric grills, microwaves and griddles offer a lot of flexibility in the classroom.
Pro Tip: If you’re cooking with high heat, such as a griddle or grill, make sure you have a source of ventilation unless you want the whole school to join you in a fire drill.
- Classroom setup. If you’re cooking in the classroom, consider your setup. Will you divide students into groups? If you’re using equipment that requires an outlet, where are these positioned relative to the workstations? Do you need extension cords?
- Portions. When you’re selecting the recipe, consider how many students you need to feed and how much you want to make. Consider whether a meal or snack-size portion would be best.
Pro Tip: A recipe that feeds four adults well will provide a sample for about 16 students. Consider whether you want to provide students with some samples to take home to continue the learning. This might mean you need zip-top bags or containers.
- Support. As class sizes continue to grow, it can be so helpful to have extra support. With younger students who benefit from extra guidance, support is essential. In our dream world, we’d have one adult for every four students. Gracious TAs, parents, grandparents and older students (who might need volunteer credits) are great allies.
Getting started: How to make your life easier
- Create a kitchen pact. Ask students what they think will be important in terms of keeping the classroom a safe place to cook and learn. Come up with a list of basic safety and communication guidelines that everyone agrees to. Developing the pact is a nice orientation for a single session and essential if you plan on cooking with students regularly.
- Kitchen skills. Ask students what their favourite food is to prepare. Ask them what they’d like to learn to cook. Answers to these questions will give you a sense of your students’ baseline skills and an inspiration for recipes
- Cleaning up. Put together a list of clean-up duties. These will vary depending on your recipe but might include wiping counters; sweeping; and washing, drying and putting away dishes. Be clear about expectations with students.
Savour: Take time to enjoy good food together
- Eat together. A big component of food literacy is learning to prepare food and then joining in to eat in a social way. We hear time and time again how valuable the social aspect of eating is.
- Let students serve themselves. Serving food family style ensures students get what they need. The first steps to learning to like a new food are to see it, touch it, smell it and observe others eating it. When they are ready, they’ll try it. We’ve found teachers appreciate not feeling like they have to enforce a “one bite” rule and students find this approach more respectful.
- Ask for feedback. Ask students which steps were easy to do, which steps were hard and what they learned. We always ask students how they would change the recipe to make it better. Students show great creativity and this question provides an opportunity to personalize learning.