TRAVERSE CITY — Frankfort Elementary School students love their cooking lessons with “healthy food teacher” Meghan McDermott.

But the lessons, part of the nationwide Farm to School education program, don’t happen as often as they’d like.

Now a new cooking kit is letting the students and their teachers cook any time they want, while learning math, science, language arts and other skills. Also on their classroom menu: learning about the food system, locally grown food and healthy eating choices.

The “tote-able kitchens” — complete with recipes and dish towels — contain a portable induction cooktop, cooking pans, mixing bowls, measuring spoons and cups, a blender, cutting utensils, vegetable peelers, a mortar and pestle, and other tools.

“I love it because it’s portable, you can do things outside, it’s pretty mess-free and it’s hands-on,” said McDermott, a FoodCorps Service Member who uses her own kit when she works with classrooms in the region two or three times per month. “Our goal is to get kids connected to food that grows locally and show them what to do with it.”

The kits, which cost about $200 each, were purchased through a USDA Farm to School grant and distributed to 14 of the region's elementary schools in January and February. The project was made possible through a Farm to School food partnership between the Michigan Land Use Institute, FoodCorps of Michigan and the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District. 

Teachers can access recipes, videos and lesson plans that encourage kids to learn through hands-on cooking activities. Sample lessons include making a simple salad dressing to practice metric measurement, measuring water vapor lost through the dehydration of fruits and vegetables, and observing and discussing foods with descriptive adjectives.

“FoodCorps has a great saying: Don’t ‘yuck’ my ‘yum,’” said Diane Conners, a senior policy specialist with Michigan Land Use Institute, a service site for FoodCorps and administrator of the grant. “Instead of saying something tastes ‘yuck’ or ‘yum,’ kids are encouraged to describe it: Is it soft, bitter, sweet, smooth?”

Deborah Johnson’s fourth-graders at Frankfort Elementary worked with McDermott to learn about different states of matter — solids to liquids and gasses. Students measured the volume of liquid remaining after steaming vegetables in a pot of water — both with and without a lid. Now they're looking forward to using their own kit.

The project capitalizes on kids’ natural love for cooking, which studies show can have a big impact on healthy food choices and trying new foods. 

“Kids are willing to try things they made, but if I brought it in and said, ‘Here’s your healthy food teacher getting you to try something new,’ they wouldn’t,” said McDermott, whose kit recipes include Classroom Ketchup and Green Smoothies using fruit and kale. “They’re invested. They want to follow the recipe and measure accurately.”

In fact, kids and cooking go together like milk and cookies or peanut butter and jelly.

“I think it’s really seeing the process. I love showing kids the why of things,” McDermott said. “Kids also have great tactile sensation, they love to touch things. And taste is that way, too. They love to taste what they’ve made. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been making salad dressing with them and it’s the first time they had salad.”

Each recipe uses local ingredients and features a “Dig In & Digest” box with interesting facts and exercises. For instance, kids who make Garlic Mustard Pesto learn that garlic mustard is an invasive species that grows wild throughout Michigan. Kids who taste Black Bean Dip discover that the state is one of the largest black bean producers.

“We want to get kids excited about healthy and locally grown food whether it is through cooking or school gardening,” Conners said.

The kits still are being introduced to faculty, said Cathy Meyer, an instructional specialist with Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.

“I know many are extremely excited about it and couldn’t wait to get into them,” she said.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

3 c. garlic mustard leaves, stems and flowers removed, washed, patted or spun dry, and packed in a measuring cup

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 c. olive oil

1 ¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese

1 c. walnuts or pine nuts (optional)

¾ t. salt

¼ t. pepper

Combine garlic mustard leaves, garlic and nuts (if using) in a mortar. Take turns using the pestle to grind the ingredients together by hand. When the leaves, garlic and nuts have reached a

paste-like consistency, slowly add the olive oil. Grind until smooth. Add cheese, salt, and pepper.

Stir to combine. Taste, and add salt or pepper to your liking.

Black Bean Dip

3.5 c. cooked black beans (or 2 15-oz. cans, rinsed and drained)

3 T. olive oil

2 cloves fresh garlic

4 t. chili powder

¼ t. yellow mustard

water for blending

Place all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Add water to reach desired consistency. Taste and add more seasoning as necessary. Serve with carrot sticks, sliced red peppers or whole wheat pita bread.

Three Sisters Soup

1 lb. butternut squash

2 T. olive oil

¾ chopped onions

1 ½ c. chopped celery

1 c. chopped carrots

1 T. minced garlic

8 c. low sodium chicken broth

1 T. table salt

½ t. ground cumin

½ t. dried thyme leaves

½ t. ground black pepper

3 c. corn kernels (fresh or frozen)

4 c. canned Great Northern Beans

Trim, peel, quarter and de-seed butternut squash. Cut squash into ½-inch dice. Heat oil in large sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until

tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add broth, the squash ½ T. salt, cumin, thyme, and pepper. Bring to slow boil. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Add corn, Great Northern beans, and the remaining ½ T. salt. Return to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes more.

Green Smoothie

¾ c. juice (orange, apple or


½ apple or pear

1 banana, sliced

1 c. kale or spinach, stems removed

½ c. water

2 c. ice

For the best success blending, add ingredients to your blender in the order listed.

Blend for 45 to 90 seconds, or until smoothie reaches desired consistency and is a vibrant green color.

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