Kids at King Elementary School in Van Buren, Arkansas, enjoy so many delicious garden experiences, the school was named “Best Nutrition Education Garden” by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.
Teachers have embraced the idea of incorporating food and cooking into lessons when possible, and the school invested in a cooking cart that can roll from room to room, creating many opportunities for kids to cook with fresh ingredients from the school garden.
Every grade, pre-K through 5th, enjoys regular visits to the garden, which includes a variety of crops such as asparagus, tomatoes, arugula, cauliflower, and zucchini, plus two fruit trees, pollinator bushes, a compost bin, a chicken coop with two chickens (cared for by a high school volunteer), a greenhouse, and six rainwater collection barrels that cover most of the garden and greenhouse watering needs.
“The strength of our program is providing students with experience getting their hands dirty outside and tasting fresh food,” says Shannon Newerth, a FoodCorps service member helping to facilitate the garden.
“Yesterday at our Sprout Scouts after school program, the kids harvested some spinach and cooked it with garlic salt and parmesan cheese. They got to pull it from the garden and wash it themselves. They got to put the ingredients on top at the end. A couple of students had never even tried spinach before. They all enjoyed it.”
For two years in a row, the school has held a successful “family cooking night” event. The latest one attracted around 100 guests! Recipes featured a vegetable grown in the school garden — zucchini the first year, cauliflower the second — and eggs from the school’s chickens.
“It was an absolute success,” Shannon says. “We created five different recipes around cauliflower: fried cauliflower rice, pickled cauliflower, cauli-tatoes, raw cauliflower with homemade ranch, and mac and cheese made with cauliflower instead of noodles. And we had a guest appearance by one of our chickens. We used their eggs in our fried cauliflower rice.”
The fried cauliflower rice was prepared for the crowd as a live cooking demonstration. Teachers did the rest of the cooking in the teacher’s lounge before the event, then kept food hot in crock pots. Student and parent guests sampled two-ounce portions of each dish and filtered through a series of stations, including one where every child planted a cauliflower seed to take home.
“Serving a sample size made it easy to control quantities and costs. And we figured even if we ran out, we could still give out the recipes,” says Teacher Kim Doss. “We have 523 students. A lot of our families don’t know their work schedules ahead of time, and a lot of parents work at night. Rather than require an RSVP, we just wanted it to be open for people to stop by when they could.”
Shannon promoted the family cooking night in the school’s bi-monthly Food Corps newsletter, sent out a digital flyer, and handed out a print flyer during parent-teacher conferences. On the day of the event, she grabbed a megaphone and headed for the carpool pick-up line to give everyone a loud and clear reminder about the festivities.
Attendance doubled from the first year to the second year, in large part because families that came back for more also told friends about it. With all the positive feedback from the event, family cooking night is expected to become a tasty tradition.
King Elementary’s Family Cooking Night Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
- 2 eggs
- 5 c. fresh cauliflower florets, minced/crumbled (a.k.a. cauliflower rice)
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 c. frozen peas and carrots
- ½ c. frozen corn (or fresh kernels removed from cob)
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 2 tsp. sesame oil, divided
- 4 T. soy sauce
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, garlic and 1 tsp. sesame oil. Set aside. In a large skillet or wok, heat ½ T. vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add diced yellow onion and vegetables, season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté about five minutes. Add cauliflower, remaining ½ T. olive oil, and soy sauce mixture to the pan. Sauté for about five more minutes. Meanwhile, beat eggs in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper. Slide all ingredients to one side of the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add 1 tsp. sesame oil to the pan, then crack eggs into the sesame oil and scramble. Incorporate scrambled eggs with cauliflower rice mixture and stir for an additional minute or two. Remove from heat. Top with green onions and serve.