You won’t find much sugar in any of the recipes these high schoolers serve to elementary schoolkids, and very little salt, fat and meat.
Students in Clarke Road secondary school’s cooking classes are learning how to make meals healthier and dishing it out twice a month to 300 kids in neighbouring elementary schools in east London.
Culinary instructors Shaune McNamara and Rob Howland, as well as instructional assistant Barb Courtis, have set up a program that sees students cooking for students in a pilot project funded by a $20,000 grant from the Ontario Student Nutrition Program through the Victorian Order of Nurses.
“We had students brainstorm some ideas of what they might want to eat if they were in grades 7 or 8 and talked about how to make those things healthier and designed a menu,” said McNamara. “Twice a month the cooking classes creates a full blown meal for pupils in grade 7 and 8 at John P. Robarts and F.D. Roosevelt elementary schools.
“It’s great to take them from the design process right down to the cooking process.”
The high school used part of the $20,000 grant money to buy reusable bento boxes and catering bags to transport the food to the younger students.
A typical cooking class will begin with “a team meeting much like in a restaurant,” McNamara said. “It’s quite a bit of work, so basically all of our classes are involved.”
“Then everyone breaks into groups and every group makes a smaller batch. We combine it all at the end,” he said.
Classes cook favourites such as macaroni and cheese, burrito bowls and perogies — the most popular dish with the students — but modify them by substituting healthier ingredients such as cauliflower or lentils.
Meals are made entirely from scratch, including bread and pasta, McNamara.
“We try to cater to the majority of people, to be accessible and inclusive,” McNamara said. “So a lot of our items have no pork and as little meat as possible — they are mostly vegetables and fibre.”
It’s not just the elementary schoolkids who benefit from the program. The high schoolers learn how to make healthier recipes.
“Some (students) are used to taking a box out and putting it in the microwave. A lot of them are experiencing something they have never seen before,” McNamara said.
Preparing the meals usually takes all week and include something cold and something hot, said Clarke Road Grade 11 student Daphne Laidlaw.
“I like that we can make food for elementary kids healthier,” she said. ”My favourite is lentil sloppy joes. I learned about different substitutions you can make, especially in sauces, different ingredients to make them healthier.”
Howland, the baking teacher, said the program has met with good reviews.
“It went really, really well,” he said. “We have funding for next year.”