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Cooking club for high school- limited resources!


I wanted to know if there were any suggestions on projects that can be done with high school students as part of an extracurricular club. My students have expressed an interest in a cooking club. We began meeting for 1-1.5 hrs after school once a week. Knowing that we would need money, we began by making chocolate lollipops, chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate covered shortbread for a fundraiser. These were sold and the materials were paid for. We had some money left over to make the recipe for no-knead bread from Zoe Francois, which students took home to bake off. They were very excited to be able to make bread so easily and affordably. At this point, I find myself with NO money and NO ideas and 25 excited students!

As far as money, this is an urban school, so getting it from the administration is not happening. The kids can't pay to join either. As far as materials, we have a microwave and toaster oven (teacher's lounge). I can bring some things from home when needed (hand mixer, crock pot, etc). We can't use the school kitchen because of a clause in the kitchen worker's contract that states that one of them needs to be there (and be paid) if we use the kitchen. I asked teachers to donate, but I've only gotten an electric sandwich maker (the kind that makes 4 triangles out of sliced bread).

Please help!

Any ideas?

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  1. What you need, Profesora, is a "sustainable" cooking club. Couple of thoughts:

    How about a local church with a kitchen? Maybe you could rev up a monthly event where the kids do a meal, and it is promoted to the school and the church (and community) as a fundraiser, and they split proceeds with the church, and hopefully make enough to buy goods for the next meal?

    1 Reply
    1. re: woodburner

      This is a good idea for me to keep in mind for next year, especially since our students are required to do community service...but I guess I forgot to mention that I'm almost 7 months pregnant right now and really need to keep this to 1-3 hrs per week after school.

    2. One other idea (to get some help for the club) is to see if any of the restaurants in your area are willing to donate some old equipment, some time, or even some pantry items. I know down here in NYC, some of the Food Network chefs help out the Long Island City High School culinary program...

      2 Replies
      1. re: CeeBee

        Further on CeeBee's idea, perhaps a local restaurant could provide a tour? It might be really fun for these keen kids to see a professional kitchen. Perhaps the chef could give them a quick demo. I did something like that at a museum's restaurant kitchen and the kids loved it. It may not be hands-on cooking, but may be something they'd be interested in.

        1. re: MrsCris

          Along this same vein, check with area grocery stores. They may be able to help out in the area of food supplies. Many of them are involved in various aspects of giving back to their communities. You could even try to get a store or restaurant to be a sponsor.

      2. In conjunction with Martha Stewart's new "Cooking School" book, her TV show is having a weekly Cooking Class segment, on Wednesdays, I believe. It might be worthwhile for you to record these as a resource for the club.

        1. Do you know anyone who has a set of buffet ranges? I have a single burner as well as a two burner set. The single one was a gift but I think the double one cost me around $30. I used it when I moved and it took a while to get the gas turned on in my home. I was able to cook pretty much anything that could be cooked on a regular stove using it. Maybe you could borrow something like that? Goodness, if I was closer, I'd loan you mine since they just sit in storage until I need them or a friend needs them for some reason.

          You could also teach them simple things like knife skills, making a vinaigrette (something I didn't know anything about until the past couple of years), different salad combinations, etc. Things that do no require cooking can come in handy.

          1. Definitely talk to some local supermarkets, and if you have a local farmers market, talk to some of the growers/sellers. Maybe you can work out a deal where they can give you what's left over. You might end up with some bruised apples, and less than fresh zucchini, but everything is a lesson. Apples can be made into mini apple pies, zucchini into zucchini pancakes.

            Since your students are in high school, they (should) have the skills necessary to make a budget. How about agreeing on a budget for each class, and deciding on a basic theme. For example, holiday cookies. Have the kids decide exactly what they want to do, and let them calculate ingredient costs. Not only will they learn how to make something, but they'll understand how much it costs. If a student mentions that butter is really expensive, there's your chance to explain why quality ingredients are expensive.

            You can also have a 'clear out the fridge' lesson. Bring in some basics (or accumulate leftover basics from past recipes) and have each student bring in an ingredient. Nothing too expensive, but make sure to decide if you're going to do savory or dessert. It's always a challenge to come up with something when you have a bunch of random ingredients before you.

            Also, what about advertising your club in some local papers and craigslist? (if the administration agrees) Mention what you're doing, the supplies you have, and the supplies you need. You might get a lot of responses from people willing to donate cookware.

            Tours are also a great idea. A lot of cities have small factories, like those that make tortillas or local cheese. Going to one of those could be interesting for your students. If you get creative, you can keep the kids happy without spending a lot. The produce manager/buyer at a local supermarket can teach the students a lot about purchasing fruits and vegetables and storing them. Maybe you can get a parent to come in and talk about cooking for many people on a budget.

            Lastly, I think it's important to experiment. Hopefully, many of your students will go away to college and have only the equipment you have now in their dorms. Think of it as a challenge. As the kids what foods they like to eat, and experiment together using what you've got.

            1. Is there an American Legion post in your vicinity? How about a benevolent or fraternal organization (Elk's Lodge, Moose Lodge, etc.)
              They all have kitchens (or at least most of them do) and most of them are anxious to help with community projects. If you keep it simple and don't get into Beef Bourguignon or Chicken Kieve you shouldn't have much difficulty in working out a meaningful plan.
              Bless you for making an effort to get young people interested in food. I remember corn flake cookies from a seventh grade "Home Economics" class (well, it was where all the girls were so why not sign up?) and I still make them.

              1. How about a little "grown your own". A basic vegatable garden would be a great project.

                1 Reply
                1. You have the microwave, you might want to consider getting a steamer, a butane stove/electric hotplate...the stove is pretty cheap (i see them at the korean markets retailing for about 30 bucks), a toaster oven, and maybe even a hot water boiler. If flames are the best idea, an electric skillet will work for a lot of projects.
                  If you can find 1 project for every tool and divide the 25 kids up into 5 projects, you might be set.

                  I teach cooking to highschool students myself and, while all the below are great ideas, what kids this age really want to do is COOK...not clean refridgerators...a couple of years ago, i was forced out of my kitchen classroom and had to "cook" in regular ed classroom...pretty tough, particularily because it was right around thanksgiving...i adopted the curriculum to be "dorm style cooking" (i.e. the stuff you could make in your college dorm)....we had a lot microwaves, so, for the most part, everything was done either in the microwave or uncooked. Remarkably, things turned out well and, save for the bird, we turned out an all-microwaved t-day meal for 100...

                  Some things we did in the microwave:
                  Pumpkin bread pudding
                  cranberry sauce
                  mashed potatoes (used a hot water boiler)
                  monkey bread
                  green been casserole

                  The cooking club sold caramel apples (melted the carmel in the microwave), and caramel corn (carmel done in the electric skillet)
                  good luck...kids will love it, reguardless what they make.

                  1. I would put an Ad in freecycle. When I was doing over my kitchen I donated a lot of stuff (downsizing), to anyone that would come and pick it up.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: mcel215

                      Can you partner with a local soup kitchen / shelter? Cook for those in need? They'll have a kitchen and basic foodstuffs - as well as an audience who needs / wants to eat good food! Great way to teach kids about being part of a community, and cooking great food for very little money.

                      1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                        The soup kitchen and the Freecycle ideas are wonderful ideas. Bravo zulu to you two; good karma is nice to on your side.

                      2. re: mcel215

                        freecycle is a great idea. Should have thought of that.

                        1. re: mcel215

                          I was also going to suggest freecycle, where you can request donations of specific equipment you'd like to use.

                        2. Send a "Letter to the Editor" of all your local newspapers. It's a quick way to reach many people. I'm sure that many in the community will want to help.

                          1. I just lost a big long reply. I'll try to reproduce a quick summary.

                            Tour a CSA, health food store, or Co-op, visit a farmer's market, or community garden. Watch food-related movies and discuss them (Supersize Me, Fast Food Nation, Farmer John, etc.) from the public library. Have a food music day with songs related to food (there's a post on one of the threads about this) to listen to and discuss what a huge role food plays in our society (there's even a dance called the Mashed Potato). Check out some interesting cookbooks from the public library.

                            Do a scavenger hunt for certain ingredients on labels of processed food (high fructose corn syrup, dairy products, tree nuts) to see how difficult it would be for someone on a special diet. Invite guest speakers to share about food from different cultures. Have them interview grandparents, older neighbors to find out about how food is different (much more processed, strawberries shipped in from Chile), how the interviewees helped with food-related tasks, etc. and share with the group. Have groups research and report back on less common foods like teff, quinoa, guava, buckwheat, etc. (where they're grown, what part of the plant is used, how they're prepared, what different cultures use them, etc). Help them learn about a variety of different special diets (gluten-free, diabetes, kosher, galactosemic, vegetarian, vegan, etc.)

                            Have them find out what grows locally. Have them research substitutions...what can you use as an egg substitute? Have them bring in the local grocery ads and do some budget meal planning.

                            I made a nutrition label card game to use with a client who has diabetes.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: lgss

                              Is there a home ec kitchen you could use?

                              Talk about the significance of the Twinkie and the plant in Wall-E, watch Ratatouille. As for easy food prep, Shepherd's Salad (also called Israeli salad among other things) requires no cooking or baking, just a bowl, spoon, the ingredients, and a sink for clean up. You don't even need measuring spoons or cups. Depending on where you are geographically, the ingredients are better in the summer. There are some freezer fudge recipes that don't require an oven or stove. If you end up with access to an oven there's a easy, healthy oat bran blueberry muffin recipe that has about 7 ingredients, takes 15 minutes to bake and requires a bowl, spoon, spatula, measuring spoons and cups and muffin pan.

                              1. re: lgss

                                I really like your idea. To expand on it, you can discuss special diets one class and have the students come up with a menu. Then, during the next class the students can use what they learned to cook the meal or even just one dish.

                                Also, what about interacting with other groups and clubs? If the cheeleaders are looking to do a bake sale, find out if your group can bake the cookies. Some schools have culture clubs where they discuss a culture and cook a dish or two. Maybe that club will have extra ingredients to donate to you guys.

                                Look into local groceries, butchers, fish markets as well. A local bucher or fish market may donate some leftover bones and scraps. You may be able to get some grocery stores to donate products that have almost outlived their shelf lives. It's a good lesson for the students to use what you've got in the most effective way.

                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                  another thought:

                                  depending on your school, the lunch ladies might let you use their facilities after school

                                  1. re: sixelagogo

                                    The OP explained that if the club was to use the school's kitchen one of the kitchen workers has to be present and paid. I guess when they are so limited in funds, it doesn't make sense to use the money to pay someone to basically stand there.. when the cash can go towards supplies.

                                    1. re: cheesecake17

                                      right...unless it's to raise a significant amount of money, it wouldn't be worth it. On the other hand, i know the lunch ladies at my school don't make over 9 bucks an hour (ridiculously low, i know, but they're contract workers)...so what i'm trying to say is 18 -30 bucks out of pocket, might not be so insane if the kids are trying to raise money and need a real facility.

                                      1. re: sixelagogo

                                        that's very true. I remember when I was in middle school one of the teachers invited parents in to bake cookies with the class. We did have one of the cafeteria cooks present, but I remeber the administration paid for that part. I wonder if it can be figured out so that the kids pay the administration for the staff member... because the administration won't pay for anything.

                                        Another idea is to use a basic ingredient and show how it's used in many different cultures. That way you can save money by purchasing a large amount. For example, look at rice. It's important in so many different types of food.

                                      2. re: cheesecake17

                                        wouldn't it be great if a worker 'stood duty', then returned the pay to the club as a donation for more supplies???

                                        1. re: toodie jane

                                          that would be great! I wonder if the students approached the lunch staff.. maybe that would make a difference in their answer

                                    2. re: cheesecake17

                                      When I was a freshman in HS we were the first class to attend in the new building. There was a kitchen in the foreign language department, shared by the French and Spanish classes!

                                  2. I run an International Club after school. We only have 35 minutes before the late busses start boarding, so time is a problem. Some things I've done with my students are:

                                    quesadillas (using an electric fry pan)
                                    crepes (we have a crepe maker). For the crepes we had whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and canned fruit fillings.

                                    We have fundraisers to help pay for the club. You could have a bake sale (doesn't have to be baked goods - can be granola bars, candies, etc...), and spaghetti dinners, and last year we sold Christmas ornaments with the school logo. I found a supplier online.

                                    To get donations for the bake sale, I offer a 100 quiz grade. The administration supports me with the extra credit offer I give.

                                    Last week we made sugar skulls for the day of the dead.

                                    If you want to communicate, feel free to email me (see my profile).


                                    1. Do you have a 4H chapter in your area? Girl Scout regional office?


                                      Both national orgs offer culinary options.

                                      Given your time limit, budget and year end goals partnering with an outside company/agency/non profit is a best bet.
                                      The ideas provided on this thread are outstanding.
                                      Do you need Board of Ed approvals to act on outside partnering?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        Another thought, your school can become an adjunct chapter under many national programs. Something to think about for next year when budgeting & planning the program. Good luck!

                                      2. Is this at a public school? If it is, you might consider asking for support via Donors Choose, once you gather your ideas.

                                        Donors Choose is a charitable organization (501(c)(3)) which allows individual donors to support specific proposals from public school teachers. Teachers write a proposal (3-6 paragraphs, not like an extensive grant proposal) asking for funding for specific items; the proposals are published on a web site; and individual donors browse the web site and decide which (if any) proposals they choose to fund. When a project is funded completely, Donors Choose purchases the items specified by the teacher and has the items shipped directly to the teacher. The teacher and students are expected to write thank you notes on a timely basis (the time frame is set by the teacher requesting the funding), which are forwarded to the individual donor.

                                        Based on the projects that I've followed, I will note that smaller-dollar proposals (~$200-300) seem to be funded more readily than larger dollar proposals, and proposals that ask primarily for durable items that can be re-used seem to be funded more readily than those that ask for one-time use/disposable items. I have seen some teachers who have been very successful at having their larger projects funded by breaking them into separate proposals, and I have seen some teachers who have been successful at having some disposables included with a proposal for durable items.

                                        The web site is http://www.donorschoose.org/

                                        (My only connection to Donors Choose is as an occasional donor who appreciates the opportunity to fund only those specific projects which I choose.)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Ginger

                                          That website sounds so interesting. I'm definitely going to keep that in mind for next year, when I (hopefully) start teaching in an urban school.

                                        2. How about contacting your local Restaurant Association, Food Bank or Share Our Strength for help? Your local RA can put you in touch with industry people that could donate product (distributors, manufacturer brokers, etc.) and could put you in touch with local chefs that might be willing to either come to the school & put on a demonstration or host the group at their restaurant for a presentation. If they bring their own equipment and product it won't cost you a penny! You might also want to look into setting up some internship opportunities with local caterers or restaurants for the students.

                                          Check out your local food bank or contact Share Our Strength, both offer educational opportunities/training on nutrition and basic cooking skills. Both would also be great ways for your students to volunteer as a tie in to their interests!

                                          Such a great thing you are doing! Where are you located? You might get some great local resources from CHs that are in your area.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: oldbaycupcake

                                            looks like the Philly area from her other post....

                                          2. I've been teaching 4,5 grade cooking in NYC public schools.
                                            I'm looking for more recipes, but this is what I've done so far:

                                            With a blender or food processor:
                                            Liquados (milk shakes)
                                            potato pancakes (with electric griddle)


                                            corn tortillas from scratch (make or buy a 5-10 dollar tortilla press)

                                            soda (using a soda maker, and teaching a lesson on sugar levels in regular soda, and then making healthier reduced sugar soda)

                                            you can also make a simple soda in a couple days using yeast, ginger, sugar, check wikihow.com

                                            It sucks not being able to use the school's ovens. You can make tons of stuff if you can sneak in there. ;)

                                            All the food/bevs above I split into smaller portions so each table or group of 5 can make, or mix up their ingredients separately, so everyone gets to touch something.

                                            lemme know of any recipes that have rocked your students world.

                                            OH! most importantly. I set up a little extender at the end of class called Gastronauts, where kids have the choice to try a food they have never tried before. Wasabi Peas, Gorgonzola cheese, dulse, etc. THEY LOVE THIS. Although one kid vomited from the smell/taste combo of dried cuttlefish, so you might not want to take it that far, I know I won't anymore. (Hey I love cuttle fish.. but...) The kids are so BRAVE, and most want to try everything.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: applegon

                                              With a blender or food processor- pesto. You can start now by planting basil seeds and when the basil's ready to pick teach the kids how to make the sauce. Literally farm to table eating cooking. If you don't have access to a burner to boil pasta, let the kids dip crackers into the pesto.

                                            2. You know, this is kind of disgusting. What you want to offer these kids is a chance to make their lives comfortable, healthy and affordable. What do we call that? Oh, yeah: education. Have you talked to the school board? Here's the problem with your plans: you are going to need to think about insurance, food safety education, the proper tools to learn. You've got a big project here.

                                              NO, I am NOT discouraging you! I'm so excited for you! This is what should be happening everywhere.

                                              And not just in the inner city schools. Last night I went to Target with my daughter, and waiting for her in the frozen food aisle, I was shocked to see how many people FILLED their carts with premade dinners. Expensive, loaded with sodium, and kind of awful-tasting.

                                              I come from a suburb where everyone is on the fast track. The schools are so concerned with getting the kids into good schools that they don't make room in the budgets for life skills. Those classes are saved for the "losers." Gee, I wonder which kids are surviving now.

                                              Keep going. Please keep us informed on your progress. And get the school board involved.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: miki

                                                You are right, Miki... but right doesn't always get done!

                                                I was on my board for 13 years... now is not the time to get funding for a new program!

                                                However, does the OP's district have a nonprofit foundation that funds projects? They may be able to help. What about the PTA? Also, there are new ways to fundraise online, right down to the classroom level. Check out classclick.net. Its a magazine fundraiser, where you can do it all online, very easy. Something the teacher can do directly.

                                                1. re: woodburner

                                                  Board mem, PTA membership officer, class Mom and non profit leader here and I recommend recruiting a relationship with a business, profit or non profit that doesn't require selling something for $$ to make $.

                                                  I realize this is an older post but for anyone approaching this challenge, proposals are easy to put together. Be very specific about your goals. Have you tried approaching the food vendors your school already has a relationship with?