RIPLEY – It’s the holiday season and that means you’re going to gain a few pounds, right?
Not if you’re one of the children in Ripley Central School teacher Michelle Lukasiak’s Healthy Eating Club.
For six weeks, students who signed up for the club have come back to school on Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon to learn about balanced eating choices, experience tasty but healthy recipes and to get some hands-on experience cooking whole meals.
“Fifteen students signed up for the club, and the average attendance each week has been around 13,” Lukasiak said. “I’ve enjoyed cooking with them. For them to get up on a Saturday and be here by 8 a.m. and stay until noon, they must like cooking and that’s enough for me.”
The students were not the only ones to benefit from the club. Each session, they got to take home an entire meal that they prepared to their families. The response from home has been great, Lukasiak said. “They want to be active and participate in the kitchen,” she said. “One mom told me: ‘This is something we can do together.'”
Lukasiak said the club not only served to teach children about healthy eating, but to provide activity for them. “I’m a teacher but I’m also a community member,” she said. “There’s not much around here for kids their age to do and I wanted to give them something outside of school.”
Her main hope with the club is that children can learn about maintaining a balance and making deliberate choices about their eating habits.
“I’m hoping they will be more conscious of choices in what they make and what they put in their bodies,” Lukasiak, who teaches third grade, said.
“I hope it will affect their long-term choices about eating; that they will take away the balance they learned about here and they will think about it. That’s my goal for them, that they will try to live a balanced lifestyle,” she said.
Lukasiak said the students did not always like some of the foods they made. For instance the fruits and vegetables were not always popular. “Some will tell me they don’t like it, but they’ve been willing to try it,” she said. “That’s been our motto – at least try it.”
The club had its last day Saturday and the students took home tuna noodle casserole with peas, tossed salad, sugar-free Jell-O and balsamic vinaigrette, all of which they made themselves. They also got to take home their own working basket of kitchen materials, including a cutting board, masher, peeler, spatula, mixing bowl, measuring cup, and a recipe ring with all of the foods they made. As a bonus, they made salt dough ornaments for their trees.
And what do the students think of their experience?
“I liked to come here to cook and to learn to chop food,” said fifth-grader Kyleigh Cox. “I didn’t like cutting the onions though because they made me cry.”
Sixth-grader Jasmine Treacle said the club will help her make good choices about eating. For instance, if she is with friends and they get a pizza with the works, she said, “I can remember about portions and only take one or two slices instead of three or four.”
Emerald Crawford, also in sixth grade, said she enjoyed all the cooking, but some more than others. “I did like the cheesy enchiladas that we made. That was my favorite. I found out that cheesy enchiladas have yogurt, but you don’t taste the yogurt,” she said.
Carson Estes, a third-grader, said he enjoyed the whole activity. “I actually got something fun to do so I’m not in the house all day,” he said.
His classmate Edwin Henderson, said he thought the class would help keep him healthy throughout his life. “I love food. The reason I joined the club was that I thought it would make me healthier,” he said. “To be healthy I will have to eat lots and lots of salad, lots of veggies, proper portions and all that stuff.”
And fifth-grader Sydney Nellis said she enjoyed the mechanics of cooking. “I get to use a lot of utensils,” she said. “The meals we made were really, really good. That’s what I can do when my mom is working.”
Perhaps sixth-grader Betty Hamrick summed up the main experience and product of the club. “I like cooking,” she said.