by Caroline Boschetto, AmeriCorps Food Educator
When Mr. Meissner’s third grade students hear a knock at the door and see two smiling faces in beet-logo t-shirts enter toting a black rolling box, their faces light up. The instructors begin unpacking colorful utensils, fresh local produce, and a variety of fragrant spices. The students know this can only mean one thing: cooking time!
Today, the students at Harmony Elementary School are preparing “Confetti Slaw,” Common Threads’ second recipe of the culinary season. This colorful salad features a medley of crunchy kale, fresh carrots, and purple and green cabbage (the harvest of the month) sourced from local farmers. The slaw is finished with a tangy Asian-inspired vinaigrette prepared freshly by students. Besides being one of the most flavorful, nutrient-packed snacks to ever hit the classroom, this recipe provides a fantastic opportunity for kids to learn and practice new culinary techniques.
“Today we’re going to learn how to chiffonade,” Harmony’s Common Threads Food Educator Miss Katy announces. She carefully demonstrates how to roll leafy greens and cut them using the “claw and saw” method in order to create uniform, confetti-like strips. “We’re also going to learn how to emulsify,” she tells students. Miss Katy explains how some liquids like oil and vinegar always try to separate, so we must combine them with whisks to create our tasty vinaigrette.
After their enthusiastic instructor finishes introducing students to this colorful recipe and briefing them on expectations of safety and respect – such as politely saying “it’s not my cup of tea” if they aren’t a fan of a new food – the students are ready to get to work!
“I think cooking is a very good life skill,” Harmony third grader Lily LaVerge says, her eyes focused on the carrot she is carefully peeling. “You’re going to need it when you’re older!”
Once the salad bowls are brimming with shredded carrots and chiffonaded greens tossed in a spice-infused dressing, the time has come to serve up our healthy creation. The third graders wait respectfully, but eagerly, for everyone to receive a portion, and at last all chant “Bon appetit, it’s time to eat!” before enjoying the flavors and textures of their dish.
“I think at first they’re hesitant to try new foods,” Miss Katy tells me, “but once I invite them to take an adventure bite, most of the students end up loving what they made.”
The third graders prove her right, as the sound of “mmmmm!” fills the room. Students’ compostable serving cups quickly empty, and fill again with seconds and even thirds. “This is my cup of tea!” a few kids exclaim.
“It’s really good! It has a whole bunch of different tastes!” Harmony third grader Gabby George announces, swinging her legs and munching happily on her slaw.
Miss Katy finishes the class with a round of cabbage trivia – a fun way for students to learn about the history and health benefits of this versatile winter vegetable.
“I love having my students cook in the classroom,” Mr. Meissner tells me. “I think it’s really cool having them cook foods they wouldn’t normally eat.”
The goal, however, is for the cooking and healthy munching to continue outside of the classroom and into their own kitchens. Kids are sent home with recipe cards in Spanish and English so they can feel inspired and empowered to continue experimenting with bold and nutritious dishes. While this was many of the students’ first time tasting confetti slaw, if their response to this dish is any indicator, it will not be their last!
– Harmony third grader Lily LaVerge