Dole: “Welcome back to cooking class everybody, did you guys have a good month?”
This is not exactly your normal cooking class. Nor is it your normal cooking audience.
Dole: “So today, we’re gonna be making turmeric couscous.”
Dole: “I need everybody to repeat that after me, turmeric couscous?”
Kids: “Turmeric couscous.”
Recipe for Success’s Chef Alyssa Dole is standing over a long table full of kindergartners wearing miniature aprons. In the middle of the table is a bunch of cooking ingredients and Dole is trying to explain what they are one by one. It’s not an easy task.
Dole: “What they think this is? Oh I can only hear people that raise their hands.”
Capturing a room full of six-year-olds’ attention is a constant battle, but capturing their interest in food…that’s a different story.
Kids: “It smell like, it smell like rotten bananas. (laughter) It smells like peppers.”
And that element of having fun with food is the basis of non-profit Recipe for Success. Founded by Gracie Cavnar in 2006, she began at MacGregor School in Midtown. It has now spread to nearly 12 elementary schools throughout the Houston area. Cavnar hoped to change schools and kids attitudes towards healthy food by showing them how easy it is to make something that’s good for you. That’s where the quarter acre-garden outside the classroom comes into play.
“We built a raised bed, one for every single classroom teacher. We’ve got produce in here that would make a professional grower cry, it’s so beautiful. It’s important to us that we link the garden with the culinary classroom, so I think you probably heard them talking about ‘Remember these leaves, we planted this’ or ‘Remember we harvested these.'”
So what grows in the garden ends up in the cooking class, seed to plate. Cavnar has seen the success of this idea when children who before wouldn’t even touch fresh fruit or vegetables slowly start adding at least one green to their diet daily. And when the kids are engaged, Cavnar finds the attitudes of parents towards healthier food begins to shift too.
“The fun thing is the kids get so excited about the food. Imagine if the kid is dragging on your arm and kicking and screaming because you gotta have broccoli, you’ll definitely go with that.”
Back in the classroom that element of fun is quite apparent.
Dole: “Yeah you probably are gonna be able to smell the onions soon.”
Kids: “Ahh, wow, that smells good.”
Cavnar’s next project is to set up a rolling farmer’s market that will meet the community’s needs in some of Houston’s food deserts. Judging by the participation in her kids’ food program, it may just be a hit.
Dole: “So what do we say before we eat?”
Kids: “Bon Appetite!”