Grade 4 student Evangeline Williams mixes up the ingredients for fresh salsa during the kids' cooking program at Harwood elementary school.

Grade 4 student Evangeline Williams mixes up the ingredients for fresh salsa during the kids' cooking program at Harwood elementary school.

Kids are cooking at Harwood

Cook it. Try it. Like it! is getting students into the kitchen

Sharp knives and hot pans are not the first thing that most people think of as learning tools for kids in elementary school.

Yet for a group of Grade 4 and 5 students at Harwood elementary school, these are the tools that are helping them learn to navigate around a kitchen during  an after-school cooking program.

Cook it. Try it. Like it! is a program run by the Food Action Society of the North Okanagan at several elementary schools. Leaders Andrea Gunner and Jasmin Wright have been busy delivering the program to students in Vernon, Lumby, Armstrong, Enderby and Grindrod.

The five-week program teaches children how to prepare simple healthy snacks and meals and promotes an awareness of food safety, where food comes from and how to make healthy choices.

“Food skills, once commonly passed from generation to generation, are often lacking among youth today,” said Linda Boyd, Food Action Society board member and public health dietitian with Interior Health. “There is a need to provide this kind of experience and allow children to feel a sense of accomplishment in the kitchen.”

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, fresh salsa and quesadillas were on the menu, with Gunner handing out a variety of toppings, and the kids enthusiastically  mixing up the fresh tomatoes and cilantro before deciding what to add to their tortillas.

Grade 5 student Damon Froste has always enjoyed cooking and jumped at the chance to take part in the program.

“It’s fun because you get to go into groups and work with your friends,” he said. “I’ve learned different safety tips, such as knife safety and about food poisoning, and we learned a lot about sugary drinks.

“My favourite thing to make has been the smoothies and the roasted vegetables.”

Parent volunteer Crystal Hale wasted no time in signing up her daughter, Grade 4 student Samantha Vajda, when the program was first offered.

“She is always wanting to cook, and I think the kids really enjoying eating what they make because they’ve made it themselves, so they are more willing to try it,” said Hale. “Now she is learning knife skills so I’m more comfortable letting her help cook at home.”

The program was originally developed by Interior Health in partnership with the Kamloops School District and Interior Community Services. Although it was designed as an after-school cooking program, Boyd said more and more schools are seeing the value of offering cooking experiences as part of the school day.

“The program is versatile and it is easy to adapt to different settings,” she said, adding that the program is supported with funding from the First West Foundation.

Harwood principal Lance Johnson said he had heard about the program at other schools and “begged and pleaded” to have it at his school.  When the permission slip went home with students, the program proved to be an immediate hit, with a waiting list of 30 kids wanting to sign up.

“It’s been full every time and I haven’t been able to take any kids off the waiting list because the kids are showing up every week,” said Johnson. “What’s great is it was a first-come, first-served basis, so we have this nice mix of kids in the program.

“Kids like the responsibility of learning how to cook. They have a great adult mentor and they are socializing and learning new things and that’s what is drawing the kids to it — it’s rewarding to them. When they are finished they get to eat what they’ve made and they feel a sense of pride.”

This week, the highlight for the kids will be a field trip to Butcher Boys, where each student will be able to select an item of produce to take home.

“We are really happy with the program —  and Butcher Boys, which sponsors our school, has been awesome,” said Johnson.