The two fifth-grade classrooms at Albert Einstein Elementary School were buzzing with uncommon activities late Wednesday morning with students chopping, draining, measuring and mixing various veggies, beans and spices at their desks.
As the students unloaded the ingredients into a pot and waited for the vegetarian chili to finish cooking, most of the youngsters were excited to try their creation while others were a little skeptical.
Emiri Ninomiya was one of the former. She had never made or tried chili so she couldn’t wait to have a bite.
The 11-year-old and her classmates were participating in The Pure Food Kids Workshop, sponsored by Seattle-based nonprofit organization Beecher’s Flagship Foundation (BFF). The program is an interactive lesson dedicated to educating children in fourth- through sixth-grades about food and nutrition. The students learn how to read the nutrition labels on foods, what different ingredients are and how different nutrients are processed by the body.
For Emiri — who has read food labels in the past but didn’t always understand what she was reading — the workshop was very useful.
“I’ve never learned to analyze (food labels),” she said.
And now that Emiri knows more about what she’s reading, she said she’ll have a better understanding of what she’s putting into her body.
Aliyson Spence, lead instructor for BFF, said understanding more about food labels, how to read them and what they mean for her body was the main reason she became involved in the foundation. She began visiting classrooms all over the state two years ago after going through a similar workshop for adults as an employee at the Beecher’s Handmade Cheese store in Pike Place Market in Seattle.
“I thought I knew about food…and was blown away,” she said.
Spence said being able to pass on this information to kids has been great, adding that the age group BFF focuses on is ideal because students are still open and excited about learning things in school and are becoming more influential at home in terms of food choices.
She said they have also received many positive responses from parents because it has helped them with trying to get their children to eat healthier. Spence explained that if the message is coming from someone besides a parent, kids are more inclined to listen.
With some of the snacks his students bring to school — such as gummy candies they think count as fruit — fifth-grade teacher Karl Olson would like to include more lessons on healthy eating choices in his curriculum. But time constraints limit how much he can teach. So he has been very appreciative of BFF coming in to his class.
“I thought it was great,” Olson said about Wednesday’s workshop.
BFF offers one-time workshops throughout the year and Olson said if there was a series of lessons available he would sign up and have them spread throughout the year. But he said having the lesson at the end of the school year offers students some food for thought for the summer as they can go home and talk to their parents about what they’ve learned.
One of Olson’s students, Parth Parulekar, plans to do just that and share with his parents what he’s learned.
The 11-year-old likes to check the labels on his food and thanks to BFF, knows more about what he’s reading. He said this is a very important lesson for kids to learn because it will help them stay healthy longer.
In addition to his knowledge about nutrition, Parth said he may share his cooking experience with his family and make the chili at home. He does a little bit of cooking at home and enjoys it very much.
“It’s creative. You can make up dishes,” Parth said. “And then you get to eat it.”