Kids dig into cooking program

Cal Poly students teach middle-schoolers nutrition fundamentals
2011-10-12T00:19:00Z Kids dig into cooking programBy Gina Potthoff / Staff Writer / Santa Maria Times

Most Mesa Middle School students already knew the drill.

Go to the school kitchen, wash hands for 20 seconds while silently singing two “Happy Birthday” songs, put on an apron and chef hat, and get the recipe of the day.

On Tuesday, students in Mesa’s Bright Futures after-school program grabbed the “Taste the Rainbow Stir-fry” recipe and gobs of vegetables to take part in the Pink and Dude Chef program, which brings STRIDE Health Ambassadors from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo to teach middle-school students nutrition fundamentals and cooking to promote healthy weight across the lifespan.

Just a few weeks ago, the students weren’t all privy to the routine.

“Now I know how to use a knife,” said eighth-grader Bryan Geronaga, who minced garlic for Tuesday’s stir-fry.

He also learned that a paring knife is for peeling as well as cutting.

Student helpers in the Pink and Dude Chef program, which was started at Cal Poly in 2008, began visits Sept. 4, and will return after school every Tuesday and Thursday through Nov. 10, when students will cook their parents a Thanksgiving dinner.

Tianna Sheehan, a Cal Poly grad student, led Mesa students in a one-hour lesson on knife safety, and explained what each knife is typically used for before leading students to the kitchen.

“You should never hold what you’re cutting,” Sheehan said, noting the importance of a cutting board.

The rambunctious students contained enough after-school energy to mince, dice and slice vegetables working in groups of four.

Last week, students baked muffins and firefighters came to explain kitchen safety, Sheehan said, and before that students learned how to read recipes.

Sheehan is studying the Pink and Dude Chef program for her graduate thesis, hoping to determine whether the extra education compels students to cook at home and to eat healthier, which is the intention.

“Hopefully it sticks,” she said. “Every week we build upon it.”

Eighth-grader Naomi Palombi already knows her way around the kitchen, but she said the program does make her want to cook healthier foods.

“I’m going to be a chef,” Naomi said, adding that it’s her second year working with the Health Ambassadors. “I just like cooking.”

Seventh-grader Emily Barry said she likes that students get cookbooks to bring home and try recipes, like making yogurt pie

instead of using fatty filling.

“It’s really fun,” said seventh-grader Adrianna Peet.

“And delicious,” Emily added.

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