The YWCA of NYC Compass Garden Program at P.S. 90 Edna Cohen Elementary in New York City has cooked up an urban kitchen curriculum featuring fresh produce from the school garden.

Students at the K-5 school, a Whole Kids Foundation garden grant recipient, experience their garden bounty at every stage from seed to plate.

To make this possible, the YWCA of NYC at P.S. 90 has partnered with local nonprofit groups and also developed their own cooking activities as part of an after-school garden program.

“Each of our cooking programs has a different programmatic structure and focus,” explains Esther Gottesman, the school’s garden teacher and coordinator. “One emphasizes dietary guidelines, while the others are more focused on fresh, seasonal produce.”

A visit from a real chef is one way to get kids really excited about cooking! Once per year, chefs from the local Garden to Café nonprofit program have visited P.S. 90 during the school day to prepare and serve a fresh meal made with produce from the school garden. The entire school participates (not just garden club members).

During summer breaks, P.S. 90 students also have an opportunity to sign up for hands-on cooking classes conducted by CookShop, a six-week program developed by Food Bank for New York City that is held at different schools throughout the city. CookShop provides the instructors and each lesson incorporates one section of the USDA MyPlate dietary guidelines.

In between these partner-supported events, Esther also incorporates cooking into the after-school garden program whenever possible.

“We cook together as part of my curriculum,” Esther explains. “My cooking lessons emphasize what’s in season and how joyful it is to share a meal together. And we host occasional community events, like our annual SaladFest, which showcases the work the kids have done in the garden. We make a huge salad with a bunch of vegetables we’ve harvested, and there’s a salad dressing station where small groups make dressing in batches, then shake it and serve it. It’s a big celebration.”

“We cook together as part of my curriculum.”

No matter how you slice or dice it, any hands-on cooking activities can deepen kids’ understandingabout our food system, and help them connect with nature, where every delicious bite begins.

Cook Up Your Own “Kitchen Curriculum”

Tap into the broader community to launch a kids’ cooking curriculum at your school!

The recipe for success can be as simple as making a seasonal salad at a garden club meeting.

Any kinds of hands-on interaction with food are fun and help kids gain a deeper understanding of the food cycle, from seed to plate.

  • Look for a cook. Find out if any nonprofit organizations in your community offer cooking classes or demonstrations for schools (some will come to your site and bring all the necessary equipment). Or ask around your school community to find folks with cooking expertise or connections who would like to help plan or teach your cooking class. Ask a local chef or culinary student, restaurant, grocery store, cooking school, college or university—or simply a teacher or parent with excellent cooking skills.
  • Find a location. No kitchen equipment on site? Consider portable options (camp stoves, grills, blenders, portable burners). Get creative. Some schools can use their science labs for cooking! Your cook may be able to provide a location. Or ask local restaurants, culinary schools or any other business with a commercial kitchen space (many Whole Foods Market locations have one) to find a space that will support your program. Check out the Edible Schoolyard “No Kitchen, No Problem” toolkit for ideas.
  • Or just be a cool cook. Who says you need heat? If logistics or safety concerns limit student access to cooking equipment, just stick to raw recipes (salads, slaws, sandwiches or wraps, dressings, dips, smoothies) and simple tools that can be borrowed or donated (blender, food processor, juicer, cutting boards, knives and peelers). Let the kids help with choosing recipes that incorporate raw ingredients from your garden.