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Ingredients for learning: cooking, collaboration and community 

YMCA food educator adds spice to middle-school class 

Kenowa Hills  — In Katie Klein’s classroom, Tuesday afternoons bring “Ms. Sarah” and a new lesson in cooking food.

Sarah Oswald, Nutrition in Action educator at YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, has been visiting Klein’s autism spectrum disorder class at Kenowa Hills Middle School every Tuesday for the past several weeks.

She recently explained why bright-colored veggies contain lots of vitamins, which prompted a question from eighth-grader Saul Vasquez-Yanez.

“What vitamins does a yellow pepper have?” he asked. 

Oswald replied: “Yellow peppers contain vitamin C and beta carotene. It’s what gives yellow and orange peppers their color.” 

After providing a background on the different ingredients, Oswald and Klein asked for volunteers for each task involved in making a vegetable egg scramble and side salad. 

Eighth-grader Gaby Ervin was tasked with cracking the eggs into a bowl and whisking them together.

Sixth-grader Juan Vargas wore a big smile as he helped Klein stir the spinach and broccoli in with the onion and mushrooms for the scramble. 

After the veggies cooked for a few minutes, Oswald poured in the eggs and waited until the last minute to add the cheese Gaby shredded. 

“I can hear it sizzling,” Saul said, emphasizing the “z” sound. 

Seventh-grader Aidan Anglemyer identified the ingredients they would need to make the dressing for the salad: “Water, vinegar and that thing that kills vampires” — otherwise known as garlic.

‘The shared experience of preparing and enjoying meals together fosters a sense of community.’

— Katie Klein, autism spectrum disorder teacher

Collaborative Cooking

Oswald brings all the ingredients to each class, and before cooking anything, she teaches students about reading recipes, nutrition facts and how to measure ingredients.

Students also get a bag of the foods they used in class to take home and make a meal with their families. 

“The shared experience of preparing and enjoying meals together fosters a sense of community,” Klein said. 

In addition to cooking with Oswald on Tuesdays this semester, Klein’s students have their regular cooking days every Friday.

Klein said her students select a recipe and make a list of ingredients, before they all travel to the grocery store on Thursdays for the ingredients.

“Incorporating cooking skills and grocery shopping into the curriculum is invaluable for students,” Klein said. “It equips them with essential life skills and fosters a sense of safety and responsibility in the kitchen.”

This year, students learned how to make smoothies, mango salsa and tacos. They are encouraged by their teacher to try at least a bite of everything before deciding they don’t like a new food. 

Klein said her students get to explore diverse foods and flavors during the YMCA classes that they may not have encountered before, while learning to work collaboratively. 

“This culinary exploration not only broadens their palate,” she added, “but also encourages an open-minded approach to trying new foods.”

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Building skills for life, starting with food
Card club pays it forward

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”

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