A little less than a year ago, Michelle Obama created the Chefs Move to Schools. Launched on the White House lawn, the program pairs individual chefs and schools with the intent that these chefs will help improve the state of the school’s food and nutrition education. After I attended the launch with 700 plus other chefs, my organization, Purple Asparagus, partnered with Healthy Schools Campaign to organize the largest single coordinated response to Mrs. Obama’s call to action. On a single October morning, approximately 75 chefs visited Chicago Public Schools armed with bagfuls of vegetables and a curriculum that I wrote entitled “Little Pea’s Dessert.”
Little Pea, a children’s book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is a story of a happy little pea. He loves going to school, playing with his friends, and when his dad, Papa Pea, comes home and flings him high in the air from a spoon. But there is one thing that Little Pea does not like and that’s his dinner. Every night, Little Pea has to eat candy for dinner. If he eats three bites of his dinner, he can have dessert: spinach!
After reading Little Pea, we asked each of the chefs to organize a vegetable tasting. See, kids don’t need much encouragement to eat sweet things, so a fruit smoothie or a fruit, yogurt, and granola cup may seem like good options for cooking with kids, since they don’t take much effort to introduce. We asked the chefs to challenge themselves and the kids. Some prepared a salad with their class; one even staged a scene from Little Pea using vegetables! Being in the midst of harvest season, I went for straight-up veggie tasting, bringing the freshest and best produce from my favorite farmers’ market, Green City Market. One class of third graders and one of kindergarteners learned about and tasted veggies such as cucumbers and broccoflower.
Our second Chef in the Classroom day (part of the Chefs Move to Schools Chicago initiative) will take place on April 5. Given that the farmers’ markets will have far less available for purchase, I’m selecting a smaller assortment of vegetables and helping each of the kids make a yogurt sauce, which can be used as either a dip or a dressing. This is a pretty simple “cooking” project that can be done in the classroom by chefs and teachers alike and gets kids excited about trying new vegetables.
- Give each kid 2 sturdy plates, a sturdy plastic knife, a small bowl, and a fork (we have reusable kid size utensils for this purpose)
- Introduce vegetables one by one, explaining how each is grown, what nutrients they contain and providing some fun facts about each (these facts can be found in on the Internet, just type in the name of the veggie and “fun facts”)
- Give each child a piece of the vegetable and, if appropriate, ask them to cut it into smaller pieces on one of the plates
- Ask them to try a bite and reserve the remainder of their vegetables on the second plate until they’ve made their dip/dressing
- Once the veggie tasting is done, scoop 2 tablespoons of plain low fat yogurt into each bowl. Add ½ teaspoon each of finely chopped green onion and canola oil mayonnaise
- Hand each child a small leaf each of parsley and basil. Ask them to tear the leaves into small pieces and add to the yogurt bowl
- Pass around a small bowl of kosher salt and ask each child to take a very small “kid-sized” pinch to add to their bowl
- Ask each child to stir the dip/dressing with their fork or a carrot stick
- Enjoy as a dip or dressing for the reserved veggies