“I have been waiting all day for cooking class to start!” said Xavier, a 6th grader and student chef who lives in the Regency Park Apartments.
During spring break, ten student chefs in grades 3rd to 6th who live at Regency Park enthusiastically worked together to cook and serve four colorful, nutritious meals: Veggie Spring Rolls, Black Bean Soup, Crispy Chickpea Salad, and Veggie Fried Rice. The recipes were designed to be kid-friendly, easy for kids to prepare at home with simple ingredients and tools, and to meet all of the requirements of the USDA After School Meal Program.
Common Threads’ partnership with Regency, now almost a year in the making, was born out of a conversation last spring with the Principal at Carl Cozier Elementary (one of Common Threads’ 21 partner schools). The principal noticed that many kids with behavioral issues lived at Regency, where more than 75% of the residents live at or below the poverty line. We realized that these were smart, capable kids, and we wondered what we could do to offer them more support. Together, we hypothesized that one reason they might be acting out at school was that they didn’t have enough good things to do or good things to eat during their out-of-school hours.
The spring break camp was the official launch of Common Threads’ new Kids Supper Club initiative, an ongoing effort to give kids living in low-income housing more opportunities to prepare and eat hearty meals with their peers, and to learn that eating healthy can be delicious and fun.
During spring break, each afternoon’s cooking class was tied to a particular healthy eating theme. Students especially enjoyed exploring spices. Invited to compare different aromas and textures, students learned about the difference between spices and herbs (herbs come from the leafy and green part of the plant; spices are parts of the plant other than the leafy bit such as the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds). Afterwards, students had the chance to create their very own spice blend to take home.
Exploring different spices inspired Tuba, a 4th grader, to go home and ask her mother what ingredients she uses to make her favorite chickpea-yogurt dish. Inviting kids to share their favorite recipes from home with the class and also to share the recipes they cooked in class with their families will, we hope, help kids get curious and excited about healthy food.
The spring break week ended with a surprise – all the student chefs went home with their very own cooking kit that included a cutting board, a skillet (donated by our friends at Haggen), and a kid-safe (yet functional) plastic knife (donated by our friends at the Whole Kids Foundation). After learning knife safety techniques, trying new foods, and learning about balanced meals – the kids were excited to use their new tools at home! Already we’ve heard stories of the tools being used to cook eggs and prepare a red cabbage salad, by Tony, a 5th grade student. The cooking class will continue as an after-school club on Thursday afternoons. We can’t wait to cook more healthy meals together with the kids at Regency!
Many thanks to our friends at Regency Park, the Opportunity Council’s CreateHousing program, Whole Cities Foundation, The RiverStyx Foundation, Whatcom County Health Department, Bellingham School District Food Services, OSPI and Dr. Anna Ciao in the Department of Psychology at WWU. It’s such a pleasure to have such great partners in growing good eaters!