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Moretown Elementary School students participating in cooking
classes taught by local chef Lisa Barnes. Photos: RG
“When kids are the ones that prepare the food, they’re at least willing to try it.” This is one of the lessons local chef Lisa Barnes has learned from the cooking class she teaches once a week at Moretown Elementary School.
For some students who work with Barnes to create naturally healthy concoctions like blueberry balsamic dressing, “this is probably the first time they’ve eaten a salad by choice,” Barnes said, and she has been pleasantly surprised at how open kids are to eating new foods, even if they’re green and supposedly good for you.
While Barnes teaches students how to cook food, perhaps even more importantly she teaches them about where their food comes from and the type of nutrition it provides. “We’ve used flax seed enough times now that when I ask them why it’s good for them, they can tell me about Omega-3 fatty acids,” Barnes said, smiling.
Barnes, a Moretown native, attended culinary school in California before moving back home and settling into her current role as the director of Mad River Localvores, a community group aimed at increasing local food consumption and production. She also owns her own year-old company, Fiddleheads Cuisine, which offers meal services, cooking classes and catering.
“I’ve always had a very home-based passion for cooking,” Barnes said, but when her neighbor, the principal at Moretown Elementary School, called her up after two girls at school came to him with the idea to start a cooking club, Barnes was happy to volunteer her time and expertise.
Moretown Elementary School, because it gets its school lunches delivered from Harwood Union High School, doesn’t have its own kitchen, so the students “don’t even see the food being prepared,” Barnes said, which is so important for developing healthy eating habits.
Together, Barnes worked with the school nurse, Karyn Kaminski, to find a way to incorporate a Farm to School-type program into the fifth- and sixth-grade health class curriculum. With Barnes’ cooking class, students learn not only learn what goes into meals and how to prepare them, they learn how to grow the ingredients they use.
A couple of weeks ago, Barnes brought in a variety of greens such as dandelion, arugula and bok choy for students to sample to that they could decide which ones they wanted to grow in the school’s available raised beds.
Whatever initial fears Barnes may have had about picky children’s responses to her more adventurous cooking ideas dissolved when “they all tried [the greens],” she said. And even more, “both classes chose to plant arugula, which I thought was really cool,” Barnes said.
Students have responded so positively to the new program that it will continue in the upcoming school year and Moretown Elementary School has applied for a grant from Farm to Schools so it can offer the cooking class to more grade levels as well.
So far with Barnes’ help, Moretown Elementary students have made banana flax muffins, potato carrot kugel and more, and they’ve posted the recipes they use on a class blog called Cooking Healthy with Kids (moretowncooks.blogspot.com) so they—and readers—can make them at home, too.