The folks behind the Week of the Young Child dubbed today “Taco Tuesday,” but this day is about far more than cheese and salsa! Here at MiniBury we’re looking at how getting kids into the kitchen can connect cooking with math, literacy and science skills, as well as nutritional knowledge and emotional wellbeing. Lauren Honican, the Food Service Direct at Cornwall Elementary School, also believes in the importance of incorporating food awareness and cooking skills into the elementary curriculum. She’s here today to answer our questions and share her passion for good food, healthy eating and community gatherings with you!
MB: First off, can you tell us who you are and how you ended up cooking for kids in Cornwall?
LB: My path to becoming the Food Service Director at Cornwall School has been a life-long food-centric journey. I was raised in Seattle on Lunchables and Easy Mac. In middle school I attending my first culinary course and learned how to properly use a knife – an invaluable lesson and building block. I was soon preparing dinners for my family and experiencing the joy of cooking nutritious meals for others. After a year studying international development issues around the globe with Thinking Beyond Borders, I reconnected with the food culture of the Pacific Northwest by eating food solely grown and raised within 100 miles of my family’s home. As an undergraduate at Middlebury College, I lived in Weybridge House (a residential community focused on sourcing, cooking, and sharing sustainable food at bi-weekly house dinners) and managed Dolci (a student-run restaurant serving multi-course meals to 80 students). The opportunity to work as Cornwall’s Food Service Director, nourishing children on a daily basis and sharing my passions for good food, healthy eating, and community gatherings around food, has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
MB: What does lunch look like at Cornwall? Is it family style or more classic lunchroom set up?
LH: Staff and students from all grades enter the School’s multi-purpose room to queue up for a buffet and then return to their respective classrooms to eat. We always serve fruits and vegetables first, followed by the main entrée, toppings, alternative options, and an occasional dessert. I say ‘we’ because groups of 5th and 6th grade students rotate through the kitchen on a weekly basis, assisting with both serving and cleaning-up.
To spice up our daily lunch routine, this spring we are piloting monthly community meals when students have the opportunity to eat communally with peers, staff, and community members. We hope that these meals – celebrations of our Harvest-of-the-Month – will bring new conversations to the table, especially those centered on food and community.
MB: What foods are you most surprised that kids love + hate?
LH: When new to Cornwall School, I served Beet and Apple Salad with apples donated from Windfall Orchards. A student returned with cheeks stained beet-red demanding MORE beets! Kale Caesar Salad and Carrot Quinoa Muffins are other favorites among students.
Several students at Cornwall dislike industrially processed ‘baby carrots’, preferring large carrots that are peeled and sliced into deliciously sweet and crunchy carrot sticks. I support this!
MB: What are your favorite ways to get kids involved in cooking?
LH: Students love to use their hands so when I think about cooking with children I focus on recipes and tasks that require physical activity. Dough is a favorite. Apple Galettes and Honey-Whole Wheat Bread are standouts.
MB: What do you enjoy about cooking?
LH: Cooking begins with sourcing the best ingredients. I aim to support community members who are raising, growing, and crafting thoughtful food. Cooking is an act of sharing your gratefulness for the soil, plants, animals, farmers, and artisans who produce the ingredients as well as for your friends joining you at the table.
MB: What style meals do you like best and think work well for kids?
LH: I gravitate towards family-style meals in which sharing food and conversation are highlights of the meal. I equally enjoy informal, outdoor gatherings around food (like picnics in warm weather!). I love being inspired by the dishes that others cook and bring to the feast.
MB: Have you ever served a meal that totally flopped? What about one that everyone loved?
LH: Some learning lessons that come to mind are times when too little or too much cooking time turned into ‘al dente’ baked potatoes and ‘more-than-just-crunchy’ burger buns…I recalibrated my timer the next time I made those meals!
A memorable meal that everyone loved was our first Community Lunch highlighting beets (the Harvest-of-the-Month): beet burgers, beet chips, beet ketchup, and red (beet-dyed) velvet cake!
MB: If you had one tip to share with parents that have “picky eaters” what would it be?
LH: Rather than identifying a child as a ‘picky eater’, which can be a term that is difficult to grow out of, I think of s/he as less adventurous for the time being. I believe that with the combination of persistence (in offering novel, inspired, and nutritious foods) and patience (for what may be the slow development of a child’s taste buds), all children can grow into nutritious and adventurous eaters.
MB: What’s your favorite taco or Mexican inspired kid-friendly dish?
LH: Homemade corn tortillas, spread with butter, and topped with salsa or guacamole. Roll ‘em up and serve ‘em hot as a snack!