“I would suggest that with one hand you hold the handle…would you like to move a little closer?”
At Rodriguez Elementary School in the Gulfton area of Houston, first graders are stirring chicken lightly sautéing in oil. But under the careful guidance of Chef Mark Wilson, they are learning how to cook safely-and no one is touching the hot pan.
“The chicken was pink at first, what color is it turning now?”
“That’s right first graders, it’s turning white…”
These students are a part of Recipe for Success, the largest program in the country that teaches kids about healthy eating from seed to plate. Each month 3,000 HISD students nurture vegetables in their school-based gardens, harvest their plants, and learn to make healthy meals with professional chefs in their classroom. This is founder Gracie Cavnar:
“What we’re all about is changing the way children appreciate, understand, and eat their food. There’s a lot of research out there that indicates that food attitudes and weight patterns are set by age 11.”
Cavnar says that the key to getting kids excited about healthy food is connecting them to where it comes from.
“We’re trying to show them that a Twinkie isn’t a vegetable and food does not come cryo-packed, and they’re involved in it. It is a miracle of creation, watching a little seed grow into something that’s yummy that you want to eat. I’ve seen a child try a vegetable that they grew that they would never ever come within a mile of to try if it just showed up on their plate unannounced.”
“Literally the other day after school they were fighting over broccoli.”
Chef Wilson shows the students how to use herbs and spices, like garlic or basil, to create a delicious meal. The goal is to invest them in healthier options, increase their fruits and vegetables, and lower their dependence on fat and sugar. And they also talk about the basics of nutrition, at an age appropriate level.
“When we talk about trans-fats, what do we do? Ooh we don’t like trans-fats, right? Don’t we say boo to trans-fats? But unsaturated fats, what did you do when I said unsaturated fats? Yay!”
Next week, Cavnar will meet with White House chef Sam Kass to discuss how the Recipe for Success program can serve as a model for schools across the nation. She also hopes within Houston area schools. Cavnar says that exit surveys show students’ attitudes about food are changing.
Rodriguez second grader Nyshjae Martin says she and her parents have noticed a change.
“I eat salads, I eat salad every day before I go to sleep, and sometimes when I wake up, I’ll eat some cereal and then I’ll start eating some grapes and stuff.”
Cavnar says that other subjects like math, science, and even language arts, can be integrated into the seed to plate curriculum. And she hopes the students will take the lessons back to their parents, friends-and the rest of their lives.
“Buon appetito!! Now you’re talking, dig in!”