After School Cooking Classes Expand Learning

Students in two eastern Ohio districts have the opportunity to make snacks and simple meals for their families in an after-school cooking program that combines kitchen basics and recipes with educational lessons. The students make everything from pizza and parfaits to pies and salads, and learn how they can prepare food at home, letting parents join in the fun. 

At the beginning of each 12-week session students are asked what sort of things they want to learn to make. Stacey Bettis, Stark County Educational Service Center (ESC) Food service director, helps run the cooking program, which is offered in the fall and spring as part of a broader after-school program with about 20 different activities for students to participate in.

“We start with the basics when the cooking classes begin,” said Bettis. “The first class the students all make aprons and learn kitchen safety skills.” Currently, the program is offered at two of the three districts which Bettis oversees, Minerva Local School District and Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools.

Once a week after school, the students come down to the cafeteria, put their aprons on, wash their hands and wait for instructions. Bettis says they are so excited to find out what they are making when they get there. Each student keeps a recipe log and is taught cooking and baking terminology during the lessons.

60 students in grades fifth through eighth recently participated in the program, which is funded by a grant through the Ohio Department of Education.

Ground Hog Day themed desserts

The hour long after school program provides educational components as well as cooking. Students learn how to measure and properly use knives. They are also taught health and hygiene measures including wearing gloves and hairnets and they are required to do the dishes

“We try to incorporate local produce when we can,” said Stacey Bettis. “We were making pizzas with tomatoes and spinach from an area farm, so we brought in local farmers to talk to them about the different growing seasons in Ohio.”

Depending on the growing season, Bettis has been able to incorporate vegetables grown by the district’s high school students who are part of Future Farmers of America (FFA). The high school students grow fruits and vegetables for a farm stand. Bettis has also brought in bakers to teach the students proper cupcake decorating techniques.

Teachers at the two schools volunteer and help Bettis with the classes. Bettis says one of the school’s secretaries heard how much fun they were having and now she joins them on a regular basis.

Occasionally, they hold a baking competition, of sorts. The students are given some staple ingredients and then pick 10 items to create something. Then parents have a chance to vote online for their favorite creation.

The grant from the state of Ohio’s Department of Education covers the cost of the food for the program and it allows the after school cooking lessons to be free for the students.

Stacey Bettis says she has one goal that she still wants to accomplish with this program – creating a signature dish to be served in the school cafeterias! She’s hopeful students in the next group of classes come up with something that they want to share with their classmates for lunch.

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