The most wonderful tonic for all that ails the world is cooking with a bunch of 10-year-olds, who are so thrilled to be in the kitchen — chopping and measuring and mixing and tasting — that they can hardly stand it.
"Yay, yay, yay! We've been waiting for this!" said Nazhir Dungee, 10, bounding into the kitchen with his five classmates from Community Partnership School in North Philadelphia.
"I actually begged my mom to sign up for this. … I wanted to be in this class so bad," said Jalynn Artis, 10. "And now I'm here!"
It was the first week of My Daughter's Kitchen, a healthy cooking program being taught for the next eight weeks in 35 urban schools throughout the region.
Volunteers reported similar enthusiasm in other participating schools, like that of Nyonnah Meekins at Daroff Charter School, who was shocked and delighted when she realized, about halfway through prep time, that the class was going to sit down together at the end and eat what they had prepared.
The first week always calls for establishing rules, and I had a few suggestions regarding kitchen safety, being respectful of others, and storing cellphones. My cooking partner Denette Stetler was much more poetic: "I want you to love food and love cooking the way I do," she said. And the kids had their own ideas, which I truly loved: Work as a team, never get upset if you make a mistake, believe in yourself.
They also were clear about their goals for the class.
"I want to put more things on my list of things I know how to make," said Imani Hall, 10.
"I want to make more desserts," said Anike Quinones, 10.
"I want to try more things," Jalynn said, "but I know I'm going to have to work on that."
For our first class, we were making a breakfast that kids could make themselves, and, it turned out, something most of them had never had before: a parfait of yogurt, fruit, and homemade granola. The volunteers reported that many of their students did not know what granola was. Some had never tasted yogurt.
So, we were also introducing an easy alternative to the processed, sugar-laden cereals eaten in so many American households. This breakfast — filled with whole grains, packed with protein, plus fresh fruit and dairy — produces quick energy from carbs, but also helps reduce midmorning hunger with fiber and protein.
These kids were so eager to get going, they lined up at the prep table with their cutting boards and utensils and were soon chopping the fruit and measuring and mixing the ingredients for granola with impressive precision. Nazhir proudly noted that they were already following a rule: "Look, we're working as a team!" he exclaimed.
In other classes around the region, students were equally ebullient, instinctively engaging all their senses, just like the most experienced cooks. "The fruit is so colorful — it looks so good!" said Stella Chau at Comly Elementary School. "I've been sampling; it's delicious!" chimed in classmate Ava Stuchko.
At CPS, Imani returned to the kitchen after setting the table in the next room. "I can smell the granola out in the hall," she said. "It smells amazing!"
By the time the granola was out of the oven and cooled, the students were jockeying for position so they could layer the fruit and yogurt and granola into a parfait. And anyone who thinks children are not keen on fresh fruit should have seen the spoons flying in to scoop up the blueberries, raspberries, peaches, bananas, and oranges.
Before they took their first bite, the kids at CPS wanted to acknowledge their own accomplishment: "Cheers to our first cooking class!" they called out and clinked their plastic water glasses in a group toast.
And then the reviews came in:
"This is so, so good, it makes me feel like a chef on a cooking show," Jalynn said.
"I love how it all comes together," Imani said.
"It's almost like a dessert," Anike said. "Hey, I think I accomplished my goal of making a dessert!"
The reactions were equally strong from other schools:
"The parfait was really good. The granola tasted better than it seemed. … It was crumbly and crispy and … tasty," said Yahiyla Walters at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences.
"It is extravagant!" said Adeline Sand at Philadelphia Charter Montessori School. "It has so many tastes at once!"
"What I liked about our breakfast meal is that it was healthy," added Jeidalys Collado at Chester Eastside. "It makes you strong and brave at school."
"I can't believe that such healthy food tastes so good! "said Janiah Lopez of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School.
"It was creamy and crunchy and a little sour," Jaykia Bonaparte of Prince Hall School wrote in her journal. "I give this 10 out of 10."
The only lament regarding the class came from Yasser Charroud at Feltonville School and had absolutely nothing to do with the meal: "I had to clean the dishes for the first time in my life," he said.
Makes 6-8 servings
32 ounces vanilla Greek yogurt
3 cups mixed fruit, washed and cut into bite-size pieces: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, bananas, oranges, or other fruits of your choice
2 cups homemade granola (see recipe)
- Prepare fruits by peeling or washing and slicing into bite-size pieces.
- Spoon about ¼ cup yogurt into the bottom of a bowl or cup. (Clear plastic cups or glasses work well so the layers are visible.)
- Spoon about ¼ cup of mixed fruit on top, then a second layer of yogurt, followed by a second layer of fruit.
- Top with a tablespoon of yogurt and sprinkle ¼ cup of granola on top. Enjoy!
Per serving (including granola): 355 calories, 15 grams fat, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 223 milligrams sodium, 43 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 15 grams sugar 14 grams protein
Makes about 4 cups or 12-16 servings
¼ cup butter, plus more for greasing baking sheet
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
½ cup sunflower seeds (or slivered almonds if no nut allergies)
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins
- Preheat the oven to 350. Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir to combine.
- Meanwhile, mix the oats, quinoa, seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter and brown sugar over the oats mixture and stir to cover the granola mix evenly.
- Grease a rimmed 13-by-9-inch baking sheet with a small amount of butter.
- Spread the granola mix onto the baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Stir and return to the oven for 5 more minutes, or until the oats start to turn golden brown. (Be careful in strong industrial convection ovens — the cooking time will be reduced to maybe 10 minutes total.)
- Remove from oven and cool completely on the pan.
- Return the granola to the large bowl, add the raisins, and mix.
- Enjoy as a snack or sprinkled over a fruit & yogurt parfait.