Fact Sheet FS1244
Cooking in the garden is a rewarding endeavor that brings the growing classroom full circle from seed to plate. Growing vegetables with kids is a great first step to get them excited about vegetables, and they tend to be more willing to try foods that they grow themselves. Similarly, children are also likely to try foods that they cook on their own. While gardening gives children the skills to grow their own food, cooking shows them what to do with it.
Both gardening and cooking teach critical thinking skills and conceptual understanding. They offer opportunities for realworld application of math, science, literature, social studies, health and art; which makes it easy to connect with most common core standards.
Teaching children basic cooking techniques like chopping, mixing, and sautéing equips them with skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. Research shows that the more kids are exposed to unfamiliar foods, the more likely they are to try and eat them. Although cooking (especially outside) may seem challenging at first, with the proper cooking tools and preparation, anyone can learn to turn the garden into their very own experimental kitchen.
The key to a successful cooking activity is to be well-prepared. Consider keeping a checklist of supplies, to assure that you don't leave behind a cooking tool or key ingredient for your recipe. Also, you must know how many students will be participating to make sure you have enough ingredients. Regardless of how long you think a cooking activity will take, it is wise to always bring a back-up activity in case it finishes early or if a recipe, such as applesauce, needs to cook and there is down time.
One fear that you may have is that chaos will ensue if a large group of children is outside. To maintain control and stay organized, it is important to have a detailed plan with plenty of jobs for kids to do. For 10 or less students, everyone can work on the same recipe without much complication.
If a group is larger than 10, it is helpful to divide up into small groups, as long as there are other volunteers available to assist. Thirty kids can quickly turn into six groups of 5 kids—which is much more manageable. One strategy is to have different stations set up for them to rotate to, allowing each student to take part in every step of the recipe. This is useful when making a recipe like a vegetable pizza, where all the ingredients get put together at the end.
Another strategy is to give each group a specific part of the recipe to work with. For instance when you are making a kale smoothie, one group can remove the stems from the kale, one group can chop up a banana, one group can measure out yogurt, etc. No matter how simple the recipe may be, it is important to try and find as many jobs as possible for students to keep busy and contribute to the final product.
A third strategy is to divide up into groups, and each group makes their own recipe. This is a good option for something like a salad, as it is not too labor intensive and you can allow each group to customize their recipe, which allows for some creativity.
It can become quite challenging if at least one other volunteer is not present to help. An extra set of hands is very helpful when several kids are cooking at the same time. There is no magic number for the amount of support, but beginning with an adult-student ratio of 1:8 is a good start. Realize that different students need different levels of support as they cook, and know your age group before you determine how many volunteers to recruit. Consider asking parents, college students, or even culinary students looking for volunteer hours for assistance. For information on age appropriate cooking activities use: www.thekidscookmonday.org/kitchen-tasks-for-different-age-groups.
Cooking outside can pose its challenges, but with the right amount of preparation, it can be just as easy as cooking inside. Cooking foods from the garden promotes healthy eating—and it offers an engaging (and tasty) option for teaching critical thinking and conceptual understanding. Instead of just talking about nutrition, cooking provides hands-on experience with healthy eating. Combining gardening and cooking helps to connect kids with food, gives them a better understanding of where their food comes from and introduces them to a world of new flavors, foods and skills that they'll use throughout their lives.
By Caroline Hire. Source: BBC goodfood, www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/guide-cookery-skills-age
3–5 year olds with their growing common sense, ability to follow instructions and dexterity, can undertake a wide range of skills. It will depend on your knowledge of each child, as skills can still vary greatly at this age.
Along with the skills suggested for 3–5 year olds, you can now introduce children to trickier techniques and equipment. At this stage, children can use a knife designed for young cooks or a small adult one.
With the introduction of sharp cutting tools like knives and scissors, always consider the ability of a child and if you're not comfortable, then leave it for a while. There are still other more complex skills they can enjoy. If you do think they can manage then still always keep an eye on them as it's very easy to slip even for adults.
Along with the skills suggested for 3–5 and 5–7 year olds, when children reach 8+, they can start to get involved with planning and undertake activities with a bit more independence. Supervision is still key due to the number of hazards in the kitchen but take a hands off approach where possible.
Along with the skills suggested for 5–7 and 7–11 year olds, when children reach 12+, they can begin to prepare more complex recipes and even start improvising. How much they can achieve depends on how interested they are in cooking and how much they've done before. Even much older children should have some supervision to avoid accidents in the kitchen.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. Service members go into communities and work on 3 pillars: Knowledge, which means food and nutrition education; Engagement, such as cooking and gardening activities; and Access, meaning securing local produce for school cafeterias. More information can be found at www.foodcorps.org.
In New Jersey, Rutgers Cooperative Extension's Family and Community Health Sciences Department (FCHS) works with families, schools and communities to make healthy lifestyle education an integral component of the school. Visit growhealthy.rutgers.edu for information on Grow Healthy, FCHS's garden-enhanced nutrition education initiative. Learn how you can join Grow Healthy and bring this statewide wellness and gardening initiative to your school. Check out the FCHS websites, too: njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs.
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Cooperating Agencies: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.
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