Cooking winter squash in the classroom

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As promised by my earlier post, “Cooking with winter squash in the classroom”!!!

Once a month, each class (that has signed up), gets a Nutrition Network (or newly changed to “Network for a Healthy California”- http://www.healthylausd.net/) box.  Inside the box, there is about 5 pounds of a seasonal fresh fruit or vegetable and a lesson plan based on that ingredient.

Many of the teachers are so busy with their lesson plans and schedule, that this box gets forgotten or put on the side burner.  Some only find time to talk briefly about the food before sending it home with the kids.  This is a good introduction to the food but much is wasted.  The food doesn’t necessarily get home in edible form or the parent doesn’t know how or have the desire to cook it.

I think a much better way to complete this lesson is to do it in the classroom, from start to finish.  That is where I come in!  The teacher starts by talking about the food the day before.  Then I arrive the following day, prepared to make a recipe that will be age-appropriate.  We reinforce the previous lesson and talk about what we will be making.  They watch me prepare it, helping when they are able, and cook it.  Then they get to try it!

Yesterday I started with the Pre-K classes.  For this age group, we decided on roasted butternut cubes with olive oil and brown sugar.  We talked about the seeds, and they helped me scoop them out.  Some kids enjoyed pulling it out with their hands, while others rather use a spoon.  They help me mix in the oil and sugar and pour in to the pans.  This class was fun because we were able to use the mini convection oven, on the cart, right outside the classroom door.  It was surprisingly quick!  Great for a small group.

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I was a little disappointed at their response; many “yuck”s and “no”s, but I suppose that is to be expected.  They are only 4 and many have never seen this food before in their life.   I was happy to see some of them trying it and liking it.  It was, after all, delicious and sweet, with little bits of roasted goodness on the corners.

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Today I worked with the Kindergarten.  After checking the contents of the boxes these classrooms got, I knew I had to get creative.  They had a ton of acorn squash, and as anybody who cooks squash knows, peeling acorns are not easy.  I could not use the previous recipe, as it required peeling.  I didn’t want to cook them the standard way I had been taught, roasted in half with butter and brown sugar.  This would result in a squash mash, and knowing 5 year olds, not a popular texture.  They would think baby food or weird orange mush.  So I went online and found a recipe for roasted acorn squash.  It said to halve them, deseed, and slice into 8 pieces, leaving the skin intact.  Perfect.  I then tossed with oil and brown sugar and roasted on sheet pans in the big oven.  They only took about 20 minutes.

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I was much more disappointed by this group’s response.  I try not to expect an outcome, doing it only for the sake of exposing the kids to healthy and sometimes new foods, but it is hard.  I know that they are just saying no because they don’t want to try.  Not that they can’t or really wouldn’t, if given enough reason.  I bet if no one said “Yuck” or “I’m not having any”, most would give it a try.  If the kids had positive responses instead of negative, then the others would follow.  But this is not where we are.  We must deal with what we have.  In the end, the teacher was able to convince many of them to try it, and some liked it.  I guess my emotional response did not help me or the kids.  Good lesson for me in the future.

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Tomorrow I will be cooking with the a 2nd and a 3rd grade class.  In 2nd, we will be making some of both the butternut and the acorn.  I think I will make the butternut savory this time.  And in 3rd, we will be making Three Sisters Stew, with beans, corn, and squash.  If the teacher hasn’t done so, I plan to talk to them about the significance of the Three Sisters story.

Stay tuned for the results, as well as upcoming 4th and 5th grade cooking classes, featuring pumpkin ravioli.

Categories: nutrition

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One Comment on “Cooking winter squash in the classroom”

  1. November 7, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    So delicious! I wish I’d been in the class, I would have eaten it all!

    Thanks for all your hard work, Melissa! And remember, kids have to try something about 10 times before they like it, especially kids that age who have built up resistance, so keep the faith — this is just their first experience with squash.

    The 9th time after this that someone serves them squash, they’ll love it and it’ll be because you started the ball rolling.

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