Ideas for Middle School Cooking Class

Give students the opportunity to explore the delicious tastes of fresh foods, like in this vegetable casserole.

Encouraged by first lady Michelle Obama's healthy food initiatives, schools across the nation are removing soda machines and investing in lunches featuring fresh foods. With childhood obesity rampant in American society, school cooking classes have the responsibility to educate kids in healthy food choices. The challenge to the teacher: Convince kids who are addicted to junk food that healthy choices taste good.

1 Discover Flavors

Wake up to flavor differences among ingredients.

Have students prepare a cup of olive oil seasoned with 1/2 tsp. salt. Pour 1/4 cup into four bowls, then add paprika, oregano, cumin and powdered garlic individually -- one spice per bowl. Students will dip fingers of toast into the bowls, tasting each spiced oil. Encourage them to discuss the differences among the tastes, providing them with descriptive vocabulary such as "tangy," "earthy," "sharp" and "herbal." Repeat the experiment with different spices or chopped herbs.

2 Fresh Produce

Bring a sharp ingredient such as sliced red onions, and don't forget the vinaigrette.

Bring at least three fresh salad vegetables or fruit to class. Provide a list of local stores where they're sold. Identify vegetables or fruit, and have kids make salad from them. Encourage kids to make salad both from individual vegetables, such as guacamole from avocados, and to combine produce into a mixed salad, such as a combination of apples, raisins, carrots and walnuts. Explain how to make a vinaigrette dressing, and have them make it to serve.

3 Plan a Balanced Meal

Pasta topped with fresh vegetables and ground beef: a healthy, satisfying meal.

Ask kids to plan a balanced meal to cook in class, from a list of suggestions you provide. Have them make a list of ingredients and equipment, and the time it takes to make the meal and clean up. Let them suggest foods they like -- if it's macaroni and cheese, give them a recipe for a homemade version. Discuss the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and help them make wise choices.

4 Healthy Alternatives

With a jar of homemade sauce from the fridge, some olives, cheese and bread, a teenager can make a healthy pizza snack in five minutes.

Fruit smoothies are as cold and delicious as milk shakes. Baked sweet potato chips satisfy that craving for a snack. Whole-wheat pizza crust covered in marinara sauce and favorite homemade toppings can be prepared ahead of time and frozen for when those teenage hunger pangs strike. Show students how to cook healthy alternatives to their favorite junky snacks. Admit that it takes some planning, but that achieving success in anything does.

5 Cooking Glossary

Enrich students' cooking vocabularies, and enrich their lives.

Gaining skills entails gaining appropriate vocabulary. Teach students cooking terms, and while they observe the difference between "boil" and "simmer," "dice" and "chop," they'll be enriching their language skills and imaginations with a wealth of new concepts. A new way of painting clouds may arise from a boy's vision of egg whites beaten till fluffy. A scientist may be born from a girl's mastery of nutrition and calorie charts.

Miriam Kresh, an American living in Israel, has been writing articles on food, health, Jewish and human-interest themes and ecological issues since 2000. She writes for an ecological magazine,, "Hamodia," a Jewish newspaper and her blog, Israeli Kitchen. Kresh completed studies in herbal medicine and Jewish studies in Jerusalem.