*This article originally appeared on MyNorth.com on Jan. 15, 2015.
Two chefs enter the room, prepared to demonstrate the latest dish they’ve learned to perfect. The audience is at the edge of their seats, craning to catch a glimpse of every last ingredient and technique required to recreate the recipe at home. Only a few minutes into the demo, several members of the audience have begun fidgeting, bouncing their feet or letting small “ooos” and “ahhs” escape.
But this isn’t the latest stadium battle of Iron Chef or a scene from Chopped. The audience members are no more than 6 years old, still learning to write their names and count into double digits. The chefs? They’re only a few years older—third graders visiting from a classroom down the hall.
Just before winter break, third-graders in Amy Jass’ class at Benzie County’s Platte River Elementary learned how to make applesauce, and completed a writing assignment (a “how-to” list) while waiting for the sauce to simmer. They all took turns contributing to the dish. Some students peeled apples, while others used apple corers to separate them into segments. At another station, students used pumpkin-carving knives to cut the segments into small chunks. Others added cinnamon and nutmeg, and began to notice the “Christmas-y” smell wafting throughout the hallways.
Two weeks later, two standout third-grade chefs were selected to help Sarah Fought’s kindergartners create some applesauce of their own. A tasting led to exclamations of “It’s better than regular!” and “this is the best applesauce in the world,” confirming that the third-graders remembered their classroom cooking lesson and were ready to share it with others. In the words of one enthusiastic kindergartner, the applesauce prepared by these 9 and 10 year olds was so good that “it almost made me go crazy!”
As a FoodCorps service member serving with the Michigan Land Use Institute in Traverse City, I have seen many incredible moments where elementary school students have been excited to try new foods, but nothing compares to the reactions they have when we prepare something in class. And it’s not just for fun; studies have shown that teaching kids to cook can have an immense impact on healthy food choices and encourage them to try new foods. Core subjects like math, reading and writing can be brought to life by reading about the history of a food, measuring ingredients and writing a recipe.
This January, the Michigan Land Use Institute and Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District will distribute cooking kits purchased with funds from a USDA Farm to School grant to 14 schools in northwest Michigan. The kits will help teachers create hands-on learning opportunities that meet teaching standards and foster healthy eating habits in children. It’s a fun, and tasty, way to learn.
As an extra bonus! In Leelanau County, 6th-9th graders at all of Leelanau’s schools have until January 23 to sign up to be part of an exciting Junior Iron Chef event. Learn more here.
Sugar-free Applesauce Recipe
5-10 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1” pieces
1. Put apples in a large pot and add ¼ inch of water to cover the bottom of the pot.
2. Place the pot over medium heat and bring the water to a boil.
3. Lower the heat, add 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg per medium sized apple, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer 15-20 minutes until apples are soft enough to mash. Allow apples to cool slightly.
4. Mash with a fork, potato masher, immersion blender, food mill or transfer to a blender.
5. Serve warm, or cool in the refrigerator and enjoy!
Meghan McDermott is a FoodCorps Service Member working with children, food service directors and teachers in area schools through the Michigan Land Use Institute’s farm to school program.