MONTROSE – As they sat at tables with clumps of parsley in front of them and chefs hats they had made themselves on their heads, first graders at Pomona Elementary learned a little about cooking this week.
About 30 students waited patiently while Chef Andrea Martin of Cook for America explained how to remove leaves of parsley from the stems. The kids then picked at their own parsley, carefully separating leaf from stem before placing the leaves in bowls. The parsley will be used later, in a school-wide meal the children will help prepare.
Martin and other chefs from Cook for America are in town this month to conduct their Junior Chef program at Pomona, and also at Johnson and Olathe elementary schools, from Nov. 7-14. The chefs will spend two days at each school.
On the first day, Martin creates a temporary kitchen, where students do hands-on recipe production. Day two culminates in a school-wide tasting assembly, where Junior Chefs get to eat their own creations. The purpose of the program is to bring “fun-filled, hands-on, food-based education to schools around the country,” according to company literature.
Cook for America has been an influential part of food service at Montrose County schools ever since the school system, under the leadership of the school district’s Nutrition Service Director Kathy DelTonto, switched to using fresh meat and local produce, as well as homemade, wholegrain bread.
The Montrose School District was host to a Culinary Boot Camp in June of 2010, also conducted by chefs from Cook for America, where school food service employees from 10 school districts came to Montrose for weeklong training. During the boot camp, culinary workers learned to prepare meals from scratch, as well as menu planning, time management and healthy cooking techniques. Four boot camps were held throughout the state, funded by a $400,000 grant through the Colorado Health Foundation, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, and LiveWell Colorado. After the boot camp, students prepared a meal, and got to taste each other’s cooking. Kids in the Junior Chef program will get to do the same thing.
The Junior Chef event is part of a larger initiative started by DelTonto and supported by Cook for America, which has also provided training to school food service directors, kitchen managers, lead cooks, and support staff that includes food safety, culinary math, time management, knife skills, menu planning and foundational cooking techniques.
DelTonto said generous grants, along with expertise from Cook for America chefs, has helped change the way Montrose students eat.
“Together we made a difference in thousands of children’s lives by providing healthier school meals,” she said.
Not only will kids in the Junior Chef program learn how to help prepare meals, the program also aims to change students’ “deeply rooted food preferences and attitudes toward food,” according to a Cook for America statement.
The program also provides extra education at the school, Martin said.
“In an era of decreasing funds, Junior Chef provides the type of experimental learning that field trips provide without the cost of leaving the school,” she said.
According to the company’s website, chefs and trainers at Cook for America use methods that are a “powerful and effective tool” against childhood obesity. To learn more about Cook for America, go to cookforamerica.com.