It’s never too early to learn the importance of healthy eating and the good that nutritious foods can do. And what better place to start that nourishing education than in the classroom?
That’s the approach of Tanner Health System’s Get Healthy, Live Well and its Kids ‘N the Kitchen program in partnership with schools around west Georgia, where instructors are incorporating healthy eating into lesson plans alongside subjects such as reading, writing and mathematics.
In keeping with its mission to help improve the community’s health, Get Healthy, Live Well designed Kids ‘N the Kitchen as an interactive teaching program for kids in grades K-8, where eating healthy becomes a part of the curriculum and students learn the importance of healthy eating, proper cooking skills and good nutrition habits.
The program features rolling “mobile kitchens” outfitted with cookware, an induction cooktop, reversible griddle and food processor for cooking demonstrations, as well as a stainless steel pop-up table for additional prep space.
“We are excited to see how the schools have taken the kitchen carts and used them in many different lesson plans,” said Patricia Mitchell, community outreach coordinator for Get Healthy, Live Well. “We have seen these carts used everywhere from in creative writing classes to STEM classes.”
A total of 11 schools and more than 6,000 students across Carroll County, Haralson County, Heard County and Carrollton City school districts have participated in the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program since it launched in October 2016, and this year, more than 2,000 additional students will have the opportunity to use the carts.
Get Healthy, Live Well has five kitchen carts and distributes them within the first few weeks of the school year. This year, carts were rolled out to Carrollton Elementary School, Bowdon Elementary School, Buchanan Elementary School, Buchanan Primary School and Sand Hill Elementary School to be used in classrooms throughout these five schools for the entire year.
Jennifer Earnest, a kindergarten teacher at Sand Hill Elementary, has taught using the cart before. She said she has big plans for using the cart again this year, which include cooking with locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as produce grown in her school’s garden.
“The Kids ‘N the Kitchen carts have helped our children build new relationships with food,” said Earnest. “We’re trying to help students build healthy habits earlier, so when they get to their teenage years, they can make healthier choices on their own. Then we have a healthier teenager, and years later a healthier adult.”
Earnest said that there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the carts at Sand Hill Elementary as the carts return for a second school year.
“The longer we’ve had our cart, the more excitement we’ve seen from everyone — students, parents and teachers alike,” said Earnest. “The kids were excited from day one. You bring food into the classroom and who wouldn’t be excited, right? We’ve had a lot of good feedback from parents, too, who are ecstatic because their kids are eating foods that they might not usually eat at home.”
Earnest had a student last year who refused to eat guacamole for his mom. After a lesson on avocados with the Kids ‘N the Kitchen cart, she said, the student went home and told his mom that he had this “yummy green stuff,” it was awesome and he loved it.
That’s part of the magic of the carts, Earnest said, where the fun and excitement of exploring with new foods in the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program piques the natural curiosity her students have about foods they’re reluctant to try elsewhere.
It’s a shared experience among other Kids ‘N the Kitchen instructors, too, like Sara Black, a FoodCorps Service Member working with School Nutrition at Carrollton City Schools.
FoodCorps is a national service organization that partners with schools to help deliver food and nutrition education. Black is in her second year in the FoodCorps program at Carrollton City Schools, and is entering into her second year working with nutrition education with the Kids ‘N the Kitchen carts as well.
In one of her first lessons this year, Black made peach salsa with students, explaining to the class the different locations in Georgia where the peaches were grown, and it was a big hit. Black turned the demonstration into an opinion writing lesson.
As the snack was passed out, students were tasked with writing a descriptive paragraph describing what flavors they tasted and whether or not they liked the snack and why.
In this way, the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program not only supplements a child’s education by tying into their coursework, but it also helps them understand the nutritional value of healthy foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which are served as part of school meals.
Black said that this method always garners much excitement around using carts in the classroom, making it easier to engage with students while teaching lessons. One of her priorities is to try and change the negative perceptions students may have about eating healthy foods that aren’t always popular.
“For the students at this age, we want to try and change their attitude about healthy eating and any negative perception they have about trying new, healthy foods, and then we can see the acceptance follow,” said Black. “But it starts with changing their attitude and generating excitement, which is what these carts help us do.”
Black said the carts are also available at school events like parent night to share the new foods and recipes students are learning about.
“At parent night, we share samples of the recipes that we’re preparing with our students,” said Black. “We often have a parent who is surprised with how accepting their child is of a recipe. We also share the recipes with them to show them how easy it is to replicate it at home. I think the parents enjoy seeing their child interacting and enjoying the foods that they’re trying at school, and the kids are excited to share the recipe and what they’ve learned with their family when they get home.”
Black used to move the mobile kitchen to the students’ classrooms to teach, but she now has her own classroom where teachers bring their students for nutrition lessons.
“We value the instruction time with these students,” said Black, who teaches about three Kids ‘N the Kitchen classes a day. “Our priorities are heavily standards-based and integrated into the lesson plans. The teachers are sharing a portion of their instruction time with me, so I want to make sure that I am tailoring my lessons to what their students are learning.”
And Earnest agreed, saying how easy it is to incorporate health into her lesson plans. She said that this year, she hopes to have the cart shared throughout her school in even more classrooms and on more grade levels.
“Last year at Sand Hill, the cart was such a success that this year more teachers are interested in teaching with it,” said Earnest. “We tie lessons into literature, phonics, math and science. It can apply to everything we’re learning.”
According to Mitchell, that’s why these partnerships are important: in order to provide more opportunities for kids to learn lifelong lessons about health and wellness, as well as how to choose more healthy foods.
Last year, the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program worked with several schools in Carroll County.
Mitchell said Get Healthy, Live Well is proud to have community partners like Earnest, Black and all the other teachers and instructors who have taken the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program and incorporated it into the classroom environment. She said she is excited to be able to extend the reach of the program this year and have even more schools throughout the region participate in the program.
“We would love for every school in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties to have the opportunity to use the Kids ‘N the Kitchen carts in their classes,” said Mitchell. “We send out applications in April to all schools. If you are a principal or teacher and want the Kids ‘N the Kitchen cart at your school, please reach out to us so we can be sure to add your name to the list for when we send out the applications next spring.”
More information about the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program and other nutrition and wellness opportunities from Tanner is online at www.GetHealthyLiveWell.org. Principals and teachers wanting to bring the cart to their school can contact Mitchell at 770.812.6962 or [email protected].