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Chef’s Move! to Schools: Farm to Fork

Chef demonstrating cooking skillsFirst Lady Michelle Obama recently launched the Let’s Move campaign which intends to combat childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach empowering schools, families, and communities with simple tools to help children eat healthier, be more active, and improve their health.

Chef’s Move! to Schools is a component of the Let’s Move campaign and calls chefs across the country to adopt a local school to work collaboratively with teachers, parents, and nutritionists on educating children about food and nutrition. Pinewood Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina answered the call and eagerly joined the Chef’s Move! to Schools initiative.  The school proactively sought out a nutritionist and chef and started a garden on site. 

Fourth grade teacher, Laura Hoeing, led the program coordination and arranged for Allison Mignery, Registered Dietitian with the Mecklenburg County Health Department, and Executive Chef Bradley Labarre, with Galway Hooker Restaurant, to educate 4th grade students about food and nutrition. Hoeing stated that, “students need to become aware about food and where it comes from as early as possible to help prevent childhood obesity” and felt it was important for them to learn about nutrition through real life experiences.  Watch video here!

Chef demonstrating school kidsWanting the program to be comprehensive, Hoeing began with growing a garden at the school so that students could see the entire food cycle from farm to fork. The garden allowed teachers to bring their science curriculum to life and for students to see where food comes from, how it grows, how to prepare it, and how the body uses. Teachers did composting lessons with the students and a local construction company came to help build the garden, all from donated supplies (newspaper, mulch, lumber, etc). With the help of Grow Charlotte students planted squash, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes, okra, beans, and other summer staples in early May.  Neighborhood volunteers helped keep the garden watered and growing during summer break. This fall, students were able to harvest the crops they planted in the spring and plant their fall crop of mustard and turnip greens and onions.

Once the garden was growing, Mignery visited each 4th grade classroom and taught students the difference between whole and processed foods. The kids participated in a food memory game in which cards with pictures of whole and processed food pairs (i.e., a fresh tomato and a bottle of ketchup) were laid face-down on the floor and they had to turn over two at a time, trying to make a match. Mignery states, “Nutrition education in schools is one of the key components needed to effectively decrease the rate of childhood obesity.”

Chef Labarre came to Pinewood Elementary and did a cooking demo for the 4th graders in October. He stated that the Chefs Move! to Schools program was “the perfect medium to show schools how to engage kids in learning about healthy foods” and stressed the importance of “education and exposure to get kids excited about food and nutrition so that they will share their experiences with their parents and family.” Labarre showed students the difference between packaged, store-bought pasta and pesto sauce and these same products made from fresh ingredients.  Kids’ responses to what pesto sauce was made of included “grass, pickles, and lettuce” among other “green-looking” items. The kids stood in amazement while they watched the basil, oil, and cheese swirl around in the food processor to make pesto and the pasta transform from flour and eggs into familiar spaghetti noodles and ravioli.

Yummy pastaPinewood Elementary plans to continue and grow Chefs Move! to Schools in the future and feels that it is creating a more global investment across society to care for our children's health and wellness. Encouraging more community members to get involved in the initiative can assist in raising awareness and influencing children's eating habits. They hope to have a chef come to the school each growing season to show students how to prepare and eat the crops they have harvested from the garden. This will expose students to a variety of produce they may have never seen or heard of before and teach them healthy preparation skills. 

Pinewood Elementary School’s initial implementation of Chefs Move! to Schools was a huge success!  Teachers, students, and administrators thoroughly enjoyed being involved and felt that it was a unique educational tool. Fourth grade teacher, Heather Richmond, said that “it was an excellent way to build students’ vocabulary and expose them to terms such as ‘from scratch’, ‘pinch of salt’, and ‘using herbs.’ It was great for the kids to see that food doesn’t always come from the store.” Students said that they “had fun”, “wanted the chef to come again,” and that you have to take your time and have fun while cooking. It was obvious to all involved in the initiative that the students loved the idea of Chefs Move! to Schools and had experienced something new and exciting that they will remember for years.
Article written by: Allison Mignery, MS, RD, LDN and Ashley Bailey, RD
Photo credit:  Allison Mignery

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