For many families today, home-cooked meals are relics of a bygone era. With the pressure of juggling work commitments, school extracurriculars, and the other chaotic demands of raising a family, dinner is more and more frequently something picked up from the prepared section of the grocery store, or from the take-out counter at a local restaurant.
As a result, for kids today, chicken isn’t a bird that’s raised, killed, cleaned, packaged, sold, seasoned, cooked, and then put on the dinner table. Chicken comes from a warming bin at Publix, just like rice comes from the microwave, and broccoli comes pre-cut in a plastic bag.
There’s a disconnect growing between where our food comes from and how it ends up in our mouths. With more processed, caloric, ready-to-eat food cheaply available than ever before, it’s essential that we arm our kids with the knowledge they need to make healthy choices about the food they’re eating, because that knowledge will play a role in shaping their health for the rest of their lives.
It’s this mission that inspired me to leave the Atlanta restaurant scene as a chef, and begin cooking and teaching at Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School (ANCS), the local school my daughter attends. At ANCS, we emphasize project-based learning, so instead of being taught from a book, students work together in class to solve problems and work through new subjects in a hands-on way.
In my Food & Culture class, I try to design lessons so that my students not only understand where ingredients come from and how they’re combined and prepared to create food, but also how to make responsible choices about food. We spent one term learning about baking, and made buttermilk biscuits, focaccia, and sourdough bread, but also explored and debated the whole grain requirements for school lunch programs. The students baked a series of breads with different ratios of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, compared them, and learned about the nutritional benefits of whole grain.