Special thanks to our amazing partners that make these labs possible: Wellness in the Schools, Novato Unified School District’s Director of Food and Nutritional Services, Miguel Villarreal, Lu Sutton’s principal, Bonnie Barron, and the Lu Sutton PTA, led by Emy Everett. We look forward to expanding into all elementary schools in Novato, with your support. Beautiful photography by Nina Menconi.
Do you love beans? I know 365 Novato California elementary school students who NOW adore them. When adults ask me what we do in the Wellness in the Schools Cooking Labs, I have to pause and respond thoughtfully. There is just so much that happens that you really have to be there to experience it. But each time, I try to focus on the bigger role we’re hoping to play each and every time we teach a fifty minute nutrition and food literacy lab using this beautiful curriculum, so I generally explain that, “We help kids fall in love with cooking and eating healthy, local foods growing in season, and we make it fun to explore new foods without fear.”
Beans are no exception. From statements like, “I don’t eat beans” at the beginning of our recent WITS labs to asking for second helpings of WITS’ multi bean chili after only fifty minutes of food literacy education, well that’s gotta be love! It’s not just beans of course. These labs teach kids about kale and carrots, tomatoes and potatoes, apples and those locally grown foods that are also being served in the school cafeteria. Regardless of the starring produce of the lab, it’s the positive, hands-on learning experience that leads to 77% of students saying they loved the Ginger Kale Salad and 75% saying they now love eating veggie bean chili.
To create magic, it’s a build. I like to make sure parents know this because I never enter a cooking lab expecting for everything to be perfect. What I aspire for are small, incremental positive experiences for children with fresh foods. Some kids love to learn our “juicy chef words,” which in our chili lab included descriptive vocabulary like translucent, garnish, saute, and simmer. Other children get super excited by the tactile portions of our learning, like sorting various varieties of dried beans and discovering ones they’d never known existed or holding the bell peppers to see which one is heavier or lighter.
Most children relish the knife skills part of the cooking lab, where we practice knife safety with nylon cutting knives from Curious Chefs, using our bear claw to hold what we’re cutting or the tunnel, and learning new cuts–for kale it was “chiffonade” cut, which is to cut into thin ribbons–for the chili recipe it was slicing and then dicing our multicolored bell peppers.
The amazing thing about ensuring that all children of the elementary school get this food literacy education is that they learn together that healthy eating is the cool thing to do. It’s fun, not punitive! The school community becomes one team, where kitchen staff at school see more kids participating, parents are supported in their efforts back at home, and even kids become teachers to their parents or grandparents. One of our second grade students was chopping away at her bell pepper in our recent chili lab when she beamed this story to me that she was so proud to share, “Chef Hollie, I made the kale salad for my dad. At first, he would only take one spoonful, but then he ate the whole bowl! It’s the only way I can get him to eat his vegetables now!”
What I love best is when our students from one lab to the next build upon what they’ve learned. We focus on listening to the foods–just ask your child what they should hear when an onion is put into a hot pan (sizzle) or how to know when you can stop massaging the kale salad (hint: it no longer crunches).
We also engage the children to learn that exploring new foods is fun by focusing on using all of our senses to taste and describe the foods we’re experiencing. Lu Sutton kids don’t make a decision about a new food until they’ve looked at it, smelled it, touched it, tasted it, and yes, listened to it. They love when a bell pepper squirts them in the face when cutting, because they know that the vitamin C in that pepper is good for their skin (a.k.a Vitamin C facial!). After teaching these WITS labs to kids, I’m also confident that even in this small amount of time, we are teaching these precious children at all ages that they are worthy of beautiful, fresh foods. What more empowerment can you ask for? Now, that’s what I call love.
If you are a parent or teacher of Lu Sutton and you have not yet taken advantage of the free Joyful 12 memberships I provide with every school we work with, please be sure to go to www.joyful12.com/lusutton and take advantage of my online kitchen learning lab. I hope it will be a beautiful resource to you and your family after each lab to keep that enthusiasm about cooking thriving back at home! To learn more about our Joyful 12 School Project and how you can help us expand in our goal to grow healthy kids in all eight elementary schools in Novato, please visit our project page today.
- *30 oz canned beans (we used 1 can of pinto beans and 1 can of black beans in our Novato labs)
- 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ jalapeno, seeded, de-ribbed & minced (optional)
- 1 Tbsp ground chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp cumin
- 1 ½ tsp oregano
- 14.5 oz can tomatoes, in juice, chopped
- 1 ½ Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp salt* (original recipe = ½ tsp)
- Fresh cilantro, chopped (for garnish--optional)
- Rinse and drain beans and set aside.
- In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat until warm.
- Add onion, red pepper, garlic and jalapeno and cook, stirring, until onions are translucent. Stir in spices and cook 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt and drained and rinsed beans; reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until flavors are well combined.
- Garnish with cilantro just before serving. (*Note: in California, we also love a rainbow of raw diced bell peppers on top as a garnish)
- *modified from way written in the original recipe