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Get Your Family Eating Right

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In our 20 years of teaching cooking as nutrition education and family therapy, we’ve found that mixing ages can offer extraordinary group dynamics in the classroom and at home.

Throughout the school day, children are grouped by their age and abilities. But, when it comes to cooking, there are at least 3 major benefits to assigning tasks by level of difficulty for participants of different ages. This can be accomplished in after school settings, community settings, and certainly in the social services setting.

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1. Engagement flourishes with age-appropriate roles.
Parents may be hesitant to invite children into the kitchen if they are unsure how to do so safely and efficiently. Understanding this reality, we build the class experience to highlight appropriate roles and tasks for different ages. By aiming for ‘aha’ moments in each session, parents know just what to do when they get home with each child. This really alleviates parents’ fears because the class shows them how each child can contribute in an authentic and non-chaotic way. Three year olds, for example, can tear up greens and lettuce, while a third grader grates potatoes. Adolescents can be taught to use a chef’s knife and become the family meal sous chef, which makes scratch cooking for parents a breeze. But, the value of combining ages in the class setting extends beyond identifying appropriate tasks for each age.

2. Bonding.
After 20 years of program development and supporting our affiliates across the US, it’s evident that people love to cook together.  Cooking creates a common bond with little ones looking up to older siblings or schoolmates. Adolescents and elementary aged children are equally enthusiastic and proud to be able to support younger children make a solid contribution to a shared meal. There is a huge win-win opportunity created by acknowledging that everyone – regardless of age, has something valuable to contribute.

This point was brought home when our FamilyCook Productions founder, Lynn Fredericks, first began cooking with her own children who are 6 and a half years apart in age.  Back in the 90’s when Stephan was a toddler in the kitchen, Lynn took great pains to make sure he had a very defined role with each recipe, so that he would not feel eclipsed by his older brother. Such role designation plays out similarly in a program setting, where children in each age group take their cues from their peers and know their role well and take pride in it.  Everyone contributes based on their ability and everyone shares in the sense of accomplishment.

3. Practice in class makes for success at home.  
Apart from parents with twins or triplets, most parents don’t have all 3rd graders at home.  By practicing age specific roles and tasks in a mixed age class, family members return home with an understanding of the boundaries around their capabilities and know when to ask for or offer help.  This is an essential development for harmonious family cooking.  If little ones are determined not to ask for help and frustrate parents with their insistence to do tasks inappropriate for their age and ability, parents will not feel motivated to continue to cook with then. It’s really that simple. The class experience should set the parameters in a positive way that celebrates every participant’s contribution. Both parents and older siblings experience the satisfaction of assisting younger family members to help. With each accomplishment the group cheers for the youngest helper’s culinary success.

This is how youth in Teen Battle Chef across the US approach their growing interest in cooking at home. They have learned so much in the program midway into the semester that they are assigned a family cooking activity designed to include ALL family members. Each Teen Battle Chef knows exactly how to safely engage each participant based on their age and ability. The result is a successful demonstration to their parents that cooking can be a happy, delicious and nutritious family affair.

Stay connected with us! Find out what the New York Times had to say this month about our award-winning programs. Sign up for our mailing list, and check out our latest book!

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We all learn new skills differently. Some of us learn by listening, while others learn by doing. Most of us learn best with a combination of learning methods. Food, with its numerous multi-sensory properties, is a fantastic tool to enhance learning about anything.

Since we began to pioneer hands-on nutrition education 20 years ago, we became curious about why food could effectively convey complex ideas. For example, third graders grasped very abstract concepts about Japanese culture after performing the Japanese tea ceremony. We asked ourselves, what exactly is going on that makes learning ‘stick’ so well when food is involved? We began researching what the brain needs to learn. What we found is five ways that food can enhance the brain’s natural learning mechanisms. Not just by eating it, but by looking at it, thinking about it and preparing it through cooking.

1. Food Engages the Brain 

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It’s been long established that multisensory learning is an effective technique to help students retain new information. We use cooking as a means to teach nutrition because it engages all of the human senses, and is an ideal activity to support multisensory learning of new information. But what we’ve found is that learning through cooking goes beyond seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting the food. Where the senses originate in the brain also have an impact on our ability to absorb new information. The part of the brain that processes our sense of smell is directly connected to the part responsible for memory and emotion. This is why a familiar smell can trigger a past memory or strong feeling. The same can be said for taste, which is largely dependent on our sense of smell. What’s interesting is that auditory and visual information don’t pass through these same areas. When applied to pedagogy, this suggests that engaging smell and taste can better support learning than the traditional ways of teaching auditory and visual information. 

2. Food Sharpens the Mind

As it turns out, peeling a pound of carrots may stimulate the brain’s natural learning processes. The human brain learns best with repetition, especially when an activity is repeated with the right frequency, intensity and duration. Cooking has its own set of methodologies, like preparing a mise en place of ingredients before sauteing them. In our programs, we’ve found that repetition encourages students to think logically and independently about the next steps in the process. “I’ve observed many young children memorize how to cook a recipe from start to finish, and be able to repeat it at home from memory.” says Lynn Fredericks, FamilyCook Productions’ founder, “Many tasks in cooking are repetitive, and repetition is so integral in how children learn.”

3. Food Makes Learning Fun

We’d all learn new things more easily if we were in a fun, relaxing environment. Neuroscience research shows that students achieve higher levels of cognition when they’re more engaged, motivated and feel minimal stress. This doesn’t always apply to traditional school settings and directed lectures. Bringing food into the classroom is a unique way to engage students and break up the monotony of sitting and listening.

4. Food Supports Collaborative Learning

If cooking is done collaboratively in a group setting, it provides another dimension for learning. Collaborate cooking applies the principles of cooperative learning, where students work as a group to help each other accomplish a task. Cooperative learning is effective because students can observe their peers and correct themselves if they’re completing a task ineffectively. In fact, we’ve found that cooking classes taught in group settings require less didactic instruction from the teacher. This translates to less required time and resources, because the brain’s natural learning mechanisms are more efficiently utilized.

5. Food Is Relevant

One reason that students lose focus in the classroom is that they don’t feel like the concepts are relevant to their lives. Food can help abstract concepts come to life. At Manhattan International High School, we’ve partnered with their 9th grade math teachers to teach statistics within the context of food. In one assignment, students take on the role of a food critic by rating their recipes for taste, and then charting the statistical average of these ratings over time. Food engages the students and utilizes all of their senses, while cooking supports collaborative learning and repetition. This provides new dimensions to teach math concepts, both in and out of the seat.

For more brain-boosting best practices, sign up for our mailing list. And click here to learn more about our award-winning programs.

Written by Bobby Maknoon, dietetic intern at City University of New York.

 

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Tagged in: Nutrition Education

When we were wading through reams of material to share in our book, we knew that tips on shopping smart would be essential. It took us a long time figure out cost effective strategies for our own families and translate them into steps for our educational programs!  

Farmers Market

Everyone wants the highest quality food for the best price! 

We have shared our secrets and strategies on how to prioritize where to shop and what quality to look for among different food categories (dairy, meat, fish, produce etc.).  Of course when it comes to produce, shopping by season is key and trying to shop local and support local agriculture brings many benefits.

Still, some people argue that fruits and vegetables are very expensive and even unaffordable. But we have found that cooking at home with fresh ingredients, adding more plant-based  proteins result in VERY affordable meals.

So we were thrilled with the release of this new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The report demonstrates that buying fresh produce can be even more economical than packaged and fast foods! It supports the shopping strategies we laid out in our book. Check out the study and learn more

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Coming Events

Thursday, February 16th

11:00 AM Willow Lesson Presentation

11:30 AM Willow Best Practices Discussion

Tuesday, February 21st

3:00 PM Willow Lesson Presentation

3:30 PM Willow Best Practices Discussion

For more information please contact
paige@familycookproductions.com

 

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