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Champions of Change: Autrey Mill Middle School Cooking Club

On Wednesday, April 20, I was notified that I had received a Champions of Change award and was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with Administration officials and several chefs and nutritionist specialists. We were asked to discuss the healthy schools initiative, the Chefs Move to Schools project and what we were doing in our communities.

I was excited to receive the award and the invitation and headed to Washington, D.C. The Chefs Move to Schools program began June 2010, when The First Lady invited chefs to get involved with schools to help students make healthier choices in eating, learn what healthier choices are, plan and plant gardens, work with school cafeterias--whatever might make a difference in children’s eating habits.

I chose Autrey Mill Middle School as my school, and met with Maria Purwin a Spanish teacher who would be my partner at the school.  We decided to start in August 2010 with an after-school cooking club and weren’t sure exactly what that meant.

The school had a home economics program, but that was discontinued in 2010, so we discovered that we had no access to ovens or stoves but did have some equipment available to use. Science teacher Rebekah Gibson gave us use of her science room for the meeting and Danelle Chereck the math teacher and Vicki Kuerer, a mom, volunteered to help with the club.

Maria announced the formation of the club once school started and asked students to sign up if interested. We were expecting 20 to 25 students to sign up and the teachers warned me that the eighth graders probably would not be interested.

We had 90 students sign up: all grades, and more than any club ever! How exciting, children want to learn to cook.

We held a lottery, divided the club into semesters to serve more children, and met monthly for an hour after school. In that hour we’ve made mini cupcakes – portion control, added fresh fruit, fresh ingredients. We’ve made pasta – homemade spinach noodles with no sugar marinara sauce, hot chocolate mix with good cocoa, low fat milk, no scary ingredients.

The kids are trying new things, loving them and taking the recipes home to make for their families. We’re posting the recipes in the weekly school newsletter so everyone can be involved, not just in club. We entered a contest sponsored by the USDA and while we didn’t make the finals, we discovered that loaded nachos made with lentils are delicious!