HISD chefs and nutritionists make healthy cooking fun for elementary students

Since January, HISD’s Nutrition Services Department has been working closely with Berry Elementary School to bring agriculture literacy into every classroom. HISD’s Chef Brittany Jones and registered dietitians Gabby Villarreal and Nathan Raska are in the process of visiting every class at Berry and providing students a fun and educational cooking demonstration and nutrition lecture.

Each classroom takeover includes an hour-long visit from Jones, Villarreal, or Raska where they walk students through the steps of a simple recipe they can try at home, including bok choy noodle crisp salad, pizza-flavored popcorn, and chocolate brownies made from beets.

“Meeting the kids where they’re at is both fun for us and easier for the schools, for the teachers, because they don’t have to do anything,” said Raska, who walked second graders through a recipe for pizza popcorn using only cooked popcorn, parmesan cheese, oregano, and sundried tomato oil. “We come in and take over, and it’s such an enriching opportunity for the kids. It gives them a break from the day-to-day rigor of the classroom, and they get to have a little fun and a little bit of passive learning in the process.”

Raska’s lesson included introducing students to each component of the snack they would be making while practicing food etiquette and experiencing their food using all five senses. Students were asked to smell the popcorn, feel the texture of the added spices, and listen to its crunch as they chewed. Some of the more adventurous snackers even volunteered to kick up the heat and sampled some crushed red pepper flakes on their pizza popcorn snack.

Following the cooking demonstration, Raska led students in a game of bingo, and students won by sorting different foods into the correct food groups.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Raska. “The overall goal is to help our kids learn a little bit more about food, build an appreciation, and really foster a positive relationship with their food.”

To learn more about the different ways Nutrition Services and the HISD Food and Agriculture Literacy Center work to educate students and give back to the community, visit their website.