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May 31, 2009 05:52 PM

What should I teach middle schoolers to do in the kitchen?

I teach at a small private school in metro Atlanta. I'm required to offer two electives each semester, in addition to the core classes I teach. Spring semester, I offered "Food Appreciation" as one of my electives. I had my class do the following:

-Learn how to pack balanced lunches for themselves
-Bake cookies and banana bread from scratch
-Decorate cupcakes
-Plant an herb garden and composted our veggie scraps
- Held a cheese tasting
-Made chocolate truffles
-Made pizza from scratch (sauce, dough)
-Discussed menu planning, shopping with a budget, and why they shouldn't eat fast food

I'm definitely going to do pies and pastry this fall. And we're going to plant a bigger garden this year, with some cool weather crops like broccoli. Anything else that middle schoolers should be exposed to? I'm looking for ideas of what else I should be introducing them to.

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    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

      That's a skill I have yet to master myself. =)

      But I do make them clean up after themselves at the end of class. They finally managed to load the dishwasher properly the last month of school.

          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

            Funny, that is close to what I was thinking as my first thought. I was actually going further, with thoughts of basic food safety and handling (like avoiding cross contamination), dressing properly so that they don't risk setting themselves on fire, God forbid, and how to cut things with sharp knives without cutting themselves.

            Your ideas about teaching them why they shouldn't eat fast food are dead on, but the main problem I see with complying with this is that the parents (and therefore, the kids) don't know how to cook or cook well, so picking up dinner at Mickey D's becomes a survival technique. Basic cooking techniques would go a long way. You would be doing them a big favor if you actually taught them a thing or two about how to actually cook. We seem to be a generation of people who can bake brownies but can't manage a roast chicken, so anything you can do to help these kids out would be doing them a big favor.

            These were the things my grandma taught me. I was very lucky to have her:

            1) Teach them how to bread food and saute in a pan -- that would cover chicken and many kinds of fish, and teach them about basic cooking and seasoning
            2) Teach them how to roast those winter veggies you are growing in the oven (beets, carrots, wedges of potato). Then move on the steaming veggies. Most kids come to my house hating brocolli, but then realize that they have never eaten them fresh and simply steamed with a touch of butter.
            3) Teach them how to tell if food is done.
            4) Bake cookies from scratch. Cookies are not supposed to come out of tubs or tubes of pre-made dough.
            5) Bake bread
            6) Roast some kind of chicken or beef in the oven
            7) Egg preparation -- most kids can manage a breakfast. If you have time, you can move on to pancakes.

            If you could do this, many will think about cooking their food rather than buying it prepared.

            1. re: RGC1982

              Your #7 is exactly what I was thinking. Teach them to make their own breakfast. Beyond eggs you could show them how to make breakfast burritos with egg, potatoes and bacon or sausage. Then they could make a batch, wrap them up and put in the fridge. Then they would have breakfast already done for a few days. Better than a McMuffin type thing.

              1. re: RGC1982

                An idea that occurs to me from the whole "parents may not be proficient in the kitchen" idea: What about a homework assignment where the kids make dinner or some aspect of dinner at least once? It might lead to a bit more cooking at home for those families who don't....

            2. I am one of the few people I know who took Home Ec from kindergarten - 8th grade. I loved it. i learned many things then that still stick with me today (thanks brookline public schools). To this day, I am surprised that so many people I know dont know the very basics of cooking.
              - How to measure ( liquids, flour etc).
              - Mise en place ( read a recipe, gather all your items ahead of time and get set up)
              - learning basic recipe words- wisk, fold, beat, stir etc
              - making an omlette
              -Basic Food safety
              -Make whipped cream with just a wisk
              -Making soup from leftover turkey
              -Basic knife skills

              2 Replies
              1. re: cassoulady

                These are great suggestions, thank you. You just reminded me that we made butter in a mason jar with whipped cream. It was great!

                1. re: cassoulady

                  Well thought out

                  Measuring is a key
                  simple knife skills and different cutting skills. Chopping vs dicing, Probably ahead of the
                  age but never to young to teach
                  Food safety is key
                  Leftovers, what to do ... some throw away. You can take good turkey, ham, chicken
                  whatever and make a great dish, kid friendly meals
                  Rice simple food along with pasta and polenta and grits, simple and quick for kids
                  salads, simple dressing for kids

                2. 1. Eggs: scramble, poach, omelette, soft boiled, hard boiled
                  2. Make mayonaise
                  3. How to bake, roast, and broil - and how these are the same or differ (maybe roast a chicken).
                  4. Cornbread, muffins, cupcakes, pancakes, waffles, crumbles, crisps, and soda bread (maybe make an apple crisp)
                  5. Handling dough - using yeast and making bread (make an easy bread)
                  6. Casserole or lasagna (make something good and simple)
                  7. Steaming and woking/stir fry - largely vegetables, done quickly
                  8. Making simple sauces - roux, sweet and sour, basic white
                  9. Making healthy soups - present possibilities and by now class can choose
                  10. Cook rice, potatoes (mashed, baked, fried), couscous, polenta, all in the same class
                  11. Make salads and dressings - with greens, vegetables, fruit, pasta, up to a Nicoise

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    We did make French bread, I forgot to list that. The soups and salads are a great idea.

                    1. re: northside food

                      I also remember doing a project where everyone researched a famous chef or a type of cuisine. I did a presentation on Careme in 5th grade and made napoleans.

                  2. I remember in 4th or 5th grade we made cream puffs. I don't remember how we did it, but thought we were pretty cool that we did!

                    I've been on a strata making kick lately--so easy to make, fun and delicious. My modified recipe is over on the member recipes board. So easy to switch the meat and vary as you like:

                    1. Id teach them to make the breakfast staples of egg, pancakes/waffles, bacon and French toast.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Kelli2006

                        Breakfast is a great idea! So many of my students have long and early commutes, so they eat breakfast in the car. I'd love to help them come up with alternatives to drive thru's.

                        1. re: northside food

                          From healthy bagles or croissants filled with a quick egg or cheese and bacon or lots of options, done quickly at home and much healthier than mcdonalds. Just learning simple oatmeal in the microwave with crunchy topping or fresh fruit. Muffins with fresh fruit kids can make and eat on the way with cream cheese is a great morning treat.