On Thursday morning, the kitchen at Mitchell Senior Elementary school was filled with the aroma of muffins in delicious flavors – blueberry, chocolate chip, butterscotch and cinnamon crumble. It was the final day of an eventful week for 13 fifth- and sixth-graders who had the chance to create new entrees and healthy snacks for themselves and their families.
Sandra Sanchez, food service consultant for Sodexo and Lisa Ludwig, food service supervisor for the Atwater Elementary School District, worked together to bring a Culinary Academy to Mitchell.
This is the second year the program has been at the school, Sanchez said, and they have done more this year than last.
“We’ve been teaching them what a chef does,” Sanchez said. “How they run the kitchen.”
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Each student had to write an essay about why they wanted to be in the program, Ludwig said. Many of the children wrote about how they don’t know how to cook and want to learn.
Leilah Garcia, 11, said she wanted to join the class because she loves cooking and trying new things and wrote about what she wanted to learn.
“I learned how to turn a lot of junk foods into healthy foods,” Garcia said.
A volunteer, Amanda Delerio, said she was happy to see kids take full advantage of the healthy vegetables while making pizza and chicken pot pies. She said she was happy they didn’t automatically go for the pepperoni and cheese.
“I think the best part is seeing how many kids wanted to be here,” Delerio said.
Now some students are talking about becoming chefs, Ludwig said. She hopes the students can take what they learned this week home and share it with their families.
“It teaches them about the concept of ingredients and how to put stuff together,” Ludwig said.
Although the program is focused on learning a culinary craft, students essentially learn about running a restaurant and kitchen, Sanchez said.
“We teach them to set a table and how to eat family style,” Ludwig said.
In between making muffins, the students learned how to make napkin roses and how to create place settings and centerpieces.
On Monday, the kids learned about food safety and how to shop for ingredients and prep for recipes. Sanchez said they put an emphasis on not wasting food and making wise choices at grocery stores.
Working with a recipe and figuring out how to add or remove things and incorporate healthier ingredients was a main focus for the week, Ludwig said. “Think outside the box,” she told the children as they made muffins.
“Just because a recipe says something, it doesn’t mean they have to do it that way,” Ludwig said.
Monday through Thursday was about learning how to work in the kitchen, Ludwig said, but the kids learned much more, like “commodity, friendship and working as a team.”
“This program isn’t about just cooking,” Garcia said. “It’s about being healthy and making healthy meals.”