Now they're cooking: Club teaches Portland middle-schoolers about nutrition

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PORTLAND — Kids are more apt to try new foods, especially nutritious alternatives, if they cook it themselves, according to a Lincoln Middle School teacher who is helping them do it.

At the Cooking Club at Lincoln Middle School, students are allowed to tap into their creative side while learning more about where food comes from and eating more sustainably for better nutrition and environmental health.

Science teacher Christel Driscoll, who is also the group adviser, said the club is part of the Cooking Matters program of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which has partnered with the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go! to provide a trained facilitator to lead students through nutrition lessons and cooking activities.

Let’s Go! encourages the use of “evidence-based strategies to increase healthy eating and physical activity among children,” according to its website. And it works with schools and other organizations around the state to “unite them in the goal of encouraging children to adopt healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”

The Cooking Club consists of two, six-week sessions per academic year. The second session started last week and Driscoll said she still has room for a few more students this semester.

She said Cooking Matters provides all the tools and food for each class, along with a cookbook that students can keep.

“The purpose of Cooking Matters is to teach students how to prepare healthier alternatives of their favorite foods,” Driscoll said.

As the sustainability science teacher at Lincoln, she also has a special interest in teaching students about the environmental, social and economic impacts of how humans acquire their food.

Driscoll said such lessons are more easily brought home when the students cook with food grown in the school garden, which they do regularly.

Facilitators choose three to four recipes to try each week based on student interest, including Mexican, Asian and Italian dishes such as tacos or pizza.

Driscoll said one week the Cooking Club may focus on whole grains, while another week might be focused on sugar and how much of it is used in drinks and packaged foods such as cereal.

During each two-hour session, students are divided into small groups to read through the recipes, choose the proper tools for measuring and preparing the ingredients, and practice proper knife handling and other culinary skills.

Driscoll said her hope for the Cooking Club is that “students gain confidence in preparing some foods at home, along with introducing healthy alternatives to the common meals they eat with their families.”

What she most enjoys about the club is seeing the “enthusiasm of the students in learning a lifelong skill.”

“Students are more apt to try new foods and waste less food when they prepare it themselves. The best comment to hear is when a student says they normally don’t like a certain food ‘but cooking it this way is pretty good.'”

Most importantly, Driscoll said the Cooking Club has really become a place where diverse students with various levels of cooking ability come together to share, learn and have fun.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Cooking Club at Lincoln Middle School in Portland lets students get creative with food while learning about nutrition and sustainability.

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