Tanner Health System

12/07/2017 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/07/2017 19:10

Tanner’s Kids ‘N the Kitchen Brings Cooking to the Classroom

With all eyes on her, Jennifer Earnest prepares to slice into a ripe avocado.

Using a sharp chef's knife, she slices through the avocado lengthwise until she feels it hit the pit. The avocado will be the main ingredient in the dish she's creating today - a delicious guacamole dip that will be served with tortilla chips. She hopes her recipe will be a hit with the judges.

You would think Earnest was a vying for a spot to become the next top chef on a competitive cooking reality TV show. But for this amateur-chef-in-the-making, her reality is trying to impress the taste buds of her classroom full of kindergarteners at Sand Hill Elementary School near Carrollton.

The next ingredient she shows her students is cilantro.

'This is cilantro,' Earnest said. 'Cilantro is another superfood. It helps your bones and your heart.'

She then gave each student an opportunity to smell the herb and asked them how it smelled.

'Yummy,' one student said.

'It smells so good,' another one said.

Earnest then went over all the other ingredients in the recipe. Once she finished making the guacamole, each student was given a sample to try.

'All the stuff that we put in our guacamole - the avocadoes, the cilantro and the tomatoes -those are all superfoods. They help us get strong muscles, strong bones and healthy teeth because there's calcium in there.'

This hands-on lesson was part of Kids 'N the Kitchen, an interactive teaching kitchen program for grades K-8, provided by Tanner Health System's Get Healthy, Live Well. In keeping with its mission to help improve the community's healthy, Get Healthy, Live Well has rolled out mobile teaching kitchens in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties. The rolling steel kitchens' countertops feature an induction cooktop, reversible griddle and food processor for cooking demonstrations.

The kitchen also includes a stainless steel pop-up table for additional prep space. The carts are currently at Carrollton Elementary School, Roopville Elementary School, Sand Hill Elementary School, Tallapoosa Primary School and Whitesburg Elementary School.

The Kids 'N the Kitchen program assists schools in hands-on cooking, taste testing and nutrition education for students. The program includes lesson plans with topics ranging from 'Fun With Food Groups' to 'Veggie Superheroes.'

'Kids 'N the Kitchen helps students become more aware of the connection between what they eat and their health,' said Patricia Mitchell, community outreach coordinator for Tanner's Get Healthy, Live Well. 'We have found that kids are more likely to try new foods when they take an active part in preparing their own meals and snacks. It's also important to allow kids to try food several times before deciding whether they like it.'

The program will help children become more familiar with a variety of fruits and vegetables while teaching them some fundamental cooking skills. Some of the program's objectives include teaching children how to read food labels, create a healthy meal and identify hidden sugars in drinks.

Kids 'N the Kitchen was a perfect fit for Sandhill Elementary, which is already working to improve nutrition with help from a $5,000 Georgia Shape grant that is being used to fund a greenhouse that is part of the school's garden initiative.

'We want to offer our children an opportunity to try new things and make it a part of what they eat on a daily basis,' said Sand Hill Elementary Principal Carla Meigs.

The Kids 'N the Kitchen cart has also been included in the classroom curriculum. When kindergarten students were learning about the letter A, the cart was used to prepare healthy snacks made with of apples. In October, pumpkin was used to make a recipe and pomegranates will be used in December.

'Parents are excited that we're offering Kids 'N the Kitchen and the students are learning how to make healthy snacks with different types of foods, so it's been a win-win for us,' Meigs said. 'The kids really do enjoy the program and having the cart makes the lessons come to life.'

Kids 'N the Kitchen has proven to be a valuable tool in Earnest's classroom. She noted that in today's society, families are constantly running between work, school, sports practices, meetings, second jobs, daycare and numerous other things that take up time. And when it comes to dinner or snack time, families are looking for something they can grab and go.

'Often these choices are not very nutritious,' Earnest said. 'It's whatever can be grabbed from the drive-thru. It seems that regular home-cooked meals are the exception and not the rule, leaving our kids with less of opportunity to try new and healthy things.'

She admitted that when students are given nutritious choices during school lunch, they don't try them and automatically say, 'Eww!'

'Bringing nutrition into the classroom gives me an opportunity to show my students that it's OK to try new things and they might even be surprised by what they discover,' Earnest said. 'I can lead by example and try new things with them, showing them that you are never too old to try new things!'
The cart has been a big success with her students who are excited when the cart comes into the classroom.

'They love to cook in our classroom and see how things come together,' Earnest said.

Parents have also been very receptive to the cart. Earnest has had a couple of parents email her about their children talking about what they tried and how much they liked it.

'I enjoy sharing and trying new things with my students,' she said. 'To see them go from 'eww' to 'yum' with foods that they have never tried because of lack of interest or lack of opportunity is amazing.'

Kristina Kayden's son Fletcher, 5, was one of those students who refused to try guacamole, but it wasn't due to a lack of opportunity. Guacamole is one of Kayden's favorite foods and she has tried to get her kids to eat it at home when they have tacos and enchiladas on Mexican Mondays, but Fletcher always refused it.

'I think maybe the color or the consistency turned him off,' she said. 'He never wanted to try it.'

One day while scrolling through the school's Facebook page, Kayden noticed a post about Kids 'N the Kitchen featuring the guacamole lesson. When Fletcher came home from school that day, she asked him to tell her about what he did in school that day.

'He told me all about the avocado,' she said. 'He described how it was black on the outside and green on the inside, and then he told me that they turned it into guacamole.'

Then came the pivotal question: Did he like it?

'He said he did and now he eats it,' Kayden said. The program definitely gets her seal of approval.

'It's really fun to see that kind of hands-on learning in action, especially when your kid is willing to try something new, talk about it and say he loved it,' she said.

For more information about Kids 'N the Kitchen and other nutrition and wellness opportunities, visit GetHealthyLiveWell.org.