Writer: Justin Bannister, (575) 646-5981, firstname.lastname@example.org
It's rare for even an accomplished chef to use purple potatoes in a dish. It's even more unlikely for sixth-graders in Berino Elementary School - many who readily admit they're not fans of healthy food - to use the exotic ingredient while preparing a lunch. That's exactly why New Mexico State University's Dona Ana County Extension Office started the Cooking with Kids program at the school, to introduce school children to healthy, inexpensive meals.
"Cooking with Kids motivates and empowers students to make healthy food choices," said Terri Von Wolff, an Extension nutrition educator at NMSU. She started teaching Cooking with Kids last November and travels to Berino Elementary, in southern Dona Ana County, throughout the school year. It's the first time the Dona Ana County Extension office has had someone working on the program.
"It's important because students who come from low-income areas are less likely to broaden their eating horizons," she said. "Most tell you right off they don't eat vegetables. After the lesson, they are more inclined to taste it because they cooked it. In turn, they can introduce the dish and the ingredients to their parents."
In a recent class, students learned how to make llapingachos, a dish from Ecuador resembling a potato pancake with corn, onion and cheese served with a chile sauce. Students also made a fresh green salad to accompany the meal.
During the course, students learn how to use a chef's knife and other kitchen utensils, how to follow a recipe and actually see what half a cup of vegetables or flour looks like. They also learn about the geography, culture and climate of the country from which their dishes originated.
"It really teaches them that there is a bigger world out there than what they may have experienced," Von Wolff said.
After the meal is prepared, students eat "family style" by serving one another, eating together, and then washing the plates, dishes and utensils they have used.
"It felt so good that the reaction has been so positive from the school and teachers," she said. "This would not have been possible without their support."
"The Cooking with Kids program has had a very positive impact on our students," said Principal Reyes Valtierra. "The curriculum complements many of our literacy and math standards and objectives. The program is rigorous but extremely appealing to our students. They are always excited whenever they know that the program is taking place. We feel very fortunate that our students have the opportunity to be part of this great program.
"The Cooking with Kids program has afforded our students a great opportunity," said Jean Jacks, the school nurse at Berino Elementary. "The kids love the classes. It has been a great learning experience."
For more information about Cooking with Kids and other outreach programs in Dona Ana County, contact the Dona Ana County Extension Office at (575) 525-6649.
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