Saturday, October 11, 2014

Students get in the kitchen with after school cooking club - By Elizabeth Richards

Since last year, students at Raymond Elementary School (RES) have had the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen, whipping up some healthy snacks as part of the after school cooking club led by chef and School Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator for RSU14 Samantha Cowens-Gasbarro and RES kitchen manager Kim Williams. 

The overall plan is to offer the cooking club experience at every school in the district said Cowens-Gasbarro. An unanticipated response to the club kept the program at RES all of last year, with over 80 children signing up in response to a listserve announcement. The club is a free after school activity which runs for an hour and a half each Tuesday for four weeks. Sessions are run at the school until each child who signs up has had a chance to participate. 

Cowens-Gasbarro needed to cancel the last session of last year due to her maternity leave, so she picked up where they left off at RES, allowing the children who had missed that final session a chance to be involved. When this session is over, they will move on to Jordan-Small Middle School, and then into Windham, beginning with Manchester School.

The club began as an initiative by the nutrition department. They quickly realized that it was so successful they needed some outside support, said Cowens-Gasbarro. They applied for and received a $3,500 grant from Berlin Auto Group to sustain the program. While the club doesn’t cost too much to operate, the grant provided them the opportunity to purchase some equipment, such as mixers, as well as supporting each session.
The club allows children to try their hand at making a variety of healthy recipes, such as homemade granola bars, fruit dip, chicken tortilla soup, mozzarella sticks, and healthy cookies. “I’ve had them eating vegan banana oatmeal cookies and they really love it. When you get kids making it, they want to eat it. They want to try it,” said Cowens-Gasbarro.

Running a cooking club is natural for Cowens-Gasbarro, who helped to run a cooking school for children while she was a personal chef in the Boston area. “With all the school nutrition stuff that was so foreign, this was the old shoe that felt good,” she said with a laugh. 

One great outcome of the program, she said, has been the close relationship that the children have developed with the kitchen staff, and the positive connections they have made to school nutrition. Parents have also learned more about what the school nutrition department is doing, and the initiatives they have to get kids interested in and excited about trying new things. 

The kitchen staff at the schools is willing and excited to step up and do the extra work that comes with trying to make food fun, said Cowens-Gasbarro. One example of this is the enthusiasm with which they participate in occasional themed Fun Friday Breakfasts. “They are just so happy to do it, and so excited when their counts go up. They’re just great,” said Cowens-Gasbarro. 

Breakfast has been an area of focus for the nutrition department to be sure all kids are getting a nutritious meal to start their day. In addition to the theme breakfasts, a breakfast cart was started in the Windham Middle School Field Allen building for the sixth graders. This allows kids a second chance to grab something to eat if they missed the cafeteria in the morning. The program has been so successful that they are expanding it to the rest of Windham Middle School, said Cowens-Gasbarro.

 “It’s been really great to get out and see the kids,” said Cowens-Gasbarro. “We want to promote and tell kids what wonderful things we’re doing so that stigma of school lunch is slowly fading into the distance,” she added.

Trail Mix Krispie Cups

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons honey
2 cups rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/4 cup thin pretzel sticks
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar with the honey and butter. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

2. Add the sunflower seeds, rice cereal, raisins and pretzels to the saucepan and fold the ingredients to evenly coat with the sauce.  Place paper liners in a standard 12 cup muffin time. Scoop mixture into muffin cups, dividing mixture evenly and gently pressing down with the back of a spoon to pack mixture into cups.  Gently press the chocolate chips onto the top of each of the trail mix cups.  Let the granola mixture set in the refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes, then peel off paper liners and enjoy!

Asian Noodle Salad

1 lb Linguine Noodles, Cooked, Rinsed, And Cooled
1 whole Red Bell Pepper, Sliced Thin
1 whole Green Bell Pepper, Sliced Thin
1 cup snow peas, sliced
1 cup grated carrot
¼ cup cilantro, chopped

1 whole Lime, Juiced
8 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2-3 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger Chopped
1 cloves Garlic, Chopped

Mix salad ingredients together. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over salad. Mix with tongs or hands and serve on a platter.

Banana Ice Cream
Makes 1 cup

1 large ripe banana

Start with ripe bananas: They should be sweet and soft. Peel the bananas and cut them into pieces.
Put the bananas in an airtight container: Like a freezer-safe glass bowl, or you can use a freezer bag.
Freeze the banana pieces for at least 2 hours, but ideally overnight.
Blend the frozen banana pieces in a small food processor: Pulse the frozen banana pieces.
Blend until smooth and whipped.
Once whipped, add any mix-ins, like peanut butter or chocolate chips
Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until solid: You can eat the ice cream immediately, but it will be quite soft. You can also transfer it back into the airtight container and freeze it until solid, like traditional ice cream.

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