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Kicking off a new in-classroom nutrition education initiative

As a USDA-recognized food hub and winner of The Golden Carrot Award for outstanding innovation in serving healthy school meals, DC Central Kitchen is committed to getting students excited about eating their vegetables.

Our new classroom-based nutrition education initiative, Cafeteria Chefs, is designed to help kids become more familiar with recipes already available on their lunch trays through fun, evidence-based learning experiences. As the food service vendor for 15 public and private schools in Washington, DC, DC Central Kitchen prepares more than 7,000 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals every day for low-income District schoolchildren. Cafeteria Chefs exposes children to the ingredients used in their school meals so they will be more likely to eat it when it’s served in DCPS cafeterias, improving child nutrition and curbing food waste.

“As Registered Dietitians, we understand that to change students’ eating behavior, we must provide the students with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities. With Cafeteria Chefs, we hope to provide students with a deeper understanding of the food on their lunch tray–where these fresh, local ingredients are coming from, what its nutritional benefits are, and how to cook these recipes in a safe way,” says Amanda Dell, RD and School Foods Coordinator at DC Central Kitchen.

For a recent Cafeteria Chefs session, DCCK’s Healthy School Food team visited a first-grade classroom at Houston Elementary School, a DC Public School located in Ward 7. During the first half of the lesson, students worked with fun puzzles and exercises to learn about the life cycle of a kale plant. In the second half of the lesson, the students learned basic cooking skills to make a Kale Salad while learning how to use a kid-friendly knife. As part of their in-classroom lesson, students also learned about the nutritional benefits of kale and the role of iron in the body. By the end of March, all first graders at Houston Elementary will have participated in a Cafeteria Chefs lesson with DCCK.

In addition to our sessions at Houston Elementary, DCCK staff are conducting Cafeteria Chefs lessons at our other partner schools as well. A special education class at Drew Elementary School is participating in a 3-class Cafeteria Chefs series. School Foods Coordinator Amanda Dell emphasizes the importance of nutrition education for this group of students, stating that “children with disabilities can find it more difficult to eat healthy, control their weight, and be physically active.”

Cafeteria Chefs will take place four times a month at schools served by DC Central Kitchen. Future lesson plans include preparing Cauliflower Mash, Curried Chickpeas, and Sofritas Tofu Tacos.

Like everything DC Central Kitchen does, Cafeteria Chefs is aimed at making long term change. Instead of  simply teaching kids about cooking,  we’re creating holistic opportunities that  engage students on the lunch line while encouraging healthy eating and active lifestyles outside school walls.