Stir in mobility with a dash of real-world and you have a recipe for teaching youths the value of healthy food choices.
Thirteen-year-old Nicholas Kuhn was among the Wilson Middle School students Wednesday who visited a mobile teaching kitchen operated by Chartwells K-12, the food service provider for the Carlisle Area School District.
An executive chef and registered dietitian teamed up to present a 40-minute lesson on nutrition and cooking techniques from a trailer parked behind Carlisle High School.
The lesson allowed students to mix ingredients and make corn tortillas for white bean and chicken tacos with citrus avocado salsa. They got to sample their own work.
“Since it’s hands-on, it’s a lot more engaging, which makes it more entertaining and enjoyable,” said Kuhn, an eighth-grader. “It’s a good idea to spread the word about being nutritious.”
Classmate Jarrett Wilson thought the mobile kitchen with its work station approach was a good idea. “It gets some kids out of their comfort zone and opens them up to experiences. It could help them in the future not just feed themselves but to feed a future family.”
Walt Bond, acting principal of Wilson, thought the visit was good timing. The mobile kitchen is in Carlisle a week after the official start of classes for 2017-18.
“It kicks off the year for them,” Bond said. “It reassures them what they are learning in class is something that can be used either at home or as a career.”
Melissa Klingel is the family and consumer science teacher at Wilson Middle School. About 150 of her students in grades 6-8 were scheduled to visit the mobile teaching kitchen from Tuesday through Thursday.
“It’s great to partner with Chartwells,” Klingel said. “It reinforces what we do in class.”
Each school day Chartwells serves healthy meals to over 2 million children across the country, said Joyce Sun, teaching kitchen manager. She said the company is very passionate about offering food education to students.
Chartwells got the idea for a mobile teaching kitchen from the association its parent company, Compass Group USA, has with the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, Sun said.
TKC is an initiative started by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health — Department of Nutrition to encourage doctors, chefs and educators to develop teaching kitchens as a catalyst for a healthier lifestyle.
“We wanted to bring the idea to all of our accounts,” said Sun, referring to the contracts Chartwells has with school districts nationwide. “We thought why not make it mobile?”
Chartwells came up with a design using a custom-made shipping container equipped with everyday appliances students would be familiar with including a microwave and a refrigerator. “We wanted it to feel as though they were in their home kitchen,” Sun said.
The company even gave the mobile kitchen a name: Elly, short for Eat, Learn, Live, the Chartwells slogan. The unit came off the production line in February and toured schools in New Jersey and North Carolina before classes let out over the summer.
Carlisle is the first of a two-stop tour of Pennsylvania that also includes Quakerstown in Bucks County. The plan is to head north into New England before turning south again for stops in New Jersey, the Carolinas and Florida, said Sun, who schedules the route and manages the program.
Tour dates are scheduled for Texas, the Southwest and the Midwest. As dates are scheduled, personnel are drawn from regional and district offices to man the kitchen and give the presentation.
John Kelly is an executive chef whose territory is school districts in Montgomery and Chester counties. He was in Carlisle to lead Wilson Middle School students through the step-by-step process of making white bean and chicken tacos with citrus avocado salsa.
Each section of students was divided into five groups. Each group manned a work station situated at a countertop around three sides of the mobile kitchen. Kelly was in the center giving students instruction as they sautéed the chicken and white beans on a stovetop burner.
The students mixed the ingredients that made the salsa and rolled and pressed the dough that made the tortillas. The idea was to teach them how to work with healthy ingredients using basic cooking techniques.
“We try to get them involved,” Kelly said. “We want them to get their hands in it. They are getting a little confidence builder in dabbling in cooking.”
Gwen Jones is a registered dietitian who normally works out of Easton, Northampton County. She was in Carlisle to help Kelly explain how adding certain ingredients to any recipe can counteract harmful foods like salt, sugar and fats.
There was at least one assistant assigned to each group of students to help monitor what they were doing. Collin Diehl is a junior at Carlisle High School enrolled in its culinary arts program. An aspiring chef, he thought it was cool to have a mobile kitchen tour the country to teach students how to prepare healthy food.