This is our third year having the Food Program. The idea was to connect what the students learn in the environment to what they put into their bodies. I sit them down and we talk a little bit about their experience with food and what that means to them and their family. Then, we learn how to read nutritional labels of the food and the portioning information. Then they help me "scale up" [the amounts] so they learn a little bit about how I shop to cook for [many people]. So, if something has fifty portions and there are 150 people, they figure out we need to buy three units of [each ingredient]. Then they come into the kitchen and we give a little talk about food safety, [for example] how we want to keep food below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees so they don’t get sick, and they go in the walk-in and they feel what 40 degrees is. Then they go in the freezer, and they feel what it is to keep things frozen. And then I have the ovens going at about 200 degrees. We open [the oven] so they get to feel what that’s like. Then they help me make the dinner. We divide up into three groups at three stations. We usually have a cutting station so they learn how to use a knife, and we have a station that portions up the food, and we have a station that might be peeling potatoes or something else for dinner. It usually takes about an hour. When they’re done with that, as a group we talk about what they made and what they would like to share with the rest of the camp. And then they get up at dinner and they share with everybody.
It’s nice to have all the help in the kitchen. But it’s interesting to see how much emotional depth a lot of the kids have because they’re operating at that [higher] level and I don’t think they’re given enough chance to express that. Yesterday, one of the girls—I think she was from Brazil and her father was from Mexico—got up and shared how food is a really important part of the traditions in their family. It was amazing to hear a sixth grader share that with other people.
Some of the boys that shared yesterday just like to make things with their hands and cooking is a way for them to express that. That’s really nice.
We also talk about being mindful in the kitchen. [For example] when they’re using a knife they need to be in the moment of cutting and making sure their fingers are back and they’re really paying attention to what they’re doing. We remind them in everything they’re doing in the kitchen that they can’t be thinking about what they’re going to be doing in an hour or what they did yesterday. They need to be present, right there in the moment.