- What do you need to plan?
- How can you get the children involved?
- What role should you play when students are tasting what they made?
What you need to know about cooking at school
Something magical happens when you get kids cooking in the classroom or at daycare. Maybe it’s the prospect of eating something yummy or maybe the change of pace and the sense of discovery. Whatever the reason, cooking at school is a bit like taking a field trip, but without having to find as many volunteers or arrange for buses.
The children’s overwhelming enthusiasm for the task isn’t the only positive thing about cooking at school. Children can learn a lot during a cooking activity. It’s easy to incorporate science, math, reading, communication and history into a cooking workshop, along with information about where food comes from and how it’s processed.
Some educators are reluctant to plan this kind of activity. And it’s true: the idea of guiding 20+ children through a cooking workshop may seem daunting. That’s where our team comes in. We’ve been through it all so we can help you avoid some common mistakes.
The basics: Have a solid plan
Things to consider:
- Food allergies, intolerances and restrictions. This information is usually collected at the beginning of the school year. Keep in mind that some students may have dietary restrictions (e.g., vegetarianism, or not eating pork for religious reasons) that are not allergies.
- The equipment. How you prepare for a cooking activity depends on the facilities available at your school. Some schools have fully equipped kitchens, while others find innovative ways to create a “kitchen” in the classroom. No matter what you’re working with, a little planning will ensure your activity runs smoothly. And you can do more than you think in a classroom. Equipment like mixing bowls, cutting boards, knives, blenders, electric grills, microwaves and hot plates provide a lot of flexibility for classroom activities.
- The layout of the classroom. If you’re cooking in a classroom, think about how you’ll set things up. Should you break the students up into groups? If you’re using electrical appliances, are there outlets close to the work areas? Will you need extension cords?
- Number of portions. When choosing the recipe, calculate how many children will be taking part in the activity and how much food you want to make. Should you make meal-size portions or snack-size ones?
Pro tip: One recipe for four adults will make about 16 small portions for students. Decide if you want the children to take home samples for further learning. If so, you will need zipper-top bags or reusable containers.
- Helping hands. When you have a lot of students, an extra set of hands can be a big plus. And if you’re working with younger students who need more support, extra help is a must. One adult for every four children is ideal. Student teachers, parents, grandparents and older students make great assistants.
Planning ahead: How to make life easier
- Make a pact with your students. Ask students what they think is important for making the classroom a safe place to cook and learn. Then create a list of basic safety and communication rules and have all your students approve it. Creating a pact is an interesting team-building activity in itself and is essential if you plan to cook regularly with your students.
- Find out about students’ cooking skills. Ask students what type of food they like to cook and what they would like to learn how to make. Their answers will give you an idea of their current skills and help you choose recipes.
- Organize the cleanup. Make a list of cleaning tasks. The tasks will vary depending on your recipe, but could include cleaning countertops, sweeping floors, and washing, drying and putting away dishes. Be clear about what you expect of your students.
Tasting: Take the time to enjoy what you make together
- Eat together. An important part of a cooking workshop is eating together! We’re always hearing how important the social aspect of eating is. Children who taste a recipe they’ve made with their friends might even dare to try foods they’ve never had before!
- Let the students serve themselves. Putting food in the centre of the table is a good way to ensure students take what they want. The first steps to appreciating a new food are looking at it, touching it, smelling it and watching others eat it. When they’re ready, students will try it for themselves. Experience has taught us that educators who use this approach appreciate not feeling obliged to make sure children take at least one bite, and students feel more respected.
- Ask for feedback. Ask students which steps were easy to complete, which were hard, what they learned and what they would do to improve the recipe. Students are very creative and this last question helps personalize their learning.
Vidgen HA et Gallegos D. Defining food literacy and its components. Appetite 2014;76: 50-59. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.01.010.