A small group of Kent elementary students have shown their parents that healthy eating can be as easy as pie — or cheesecake, for that matter.
On Friday, they baked up a magnificent three-course meal that came to a close with a golden brown, creamy pumpkin cheesecake.
They used fresh, local pumpkins, and to that they added whole ingredients like maple syrup, cream cheese, greek yogurt, free range eggs and all the must-have pumpkin pie spices. The kids folded that mixture onto a crust that consisted of graham cracker crumbs, locally grown hazelnuts, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.
But the crowning glory was the maple whip cream and brown sugar caramel sauce.
Naturally, the decadent yet light dessert was devoured by both the students and their parents.
It was a perfect ending to a hearty and nutritious meal put together by the eight students, as part of the Food For Thought program coordinated by Miel Bernstein.
The menu started with Greek salad and homemade pita chips with tzatziki dip, then moved into a herb-nut crusted chicken fillet with honey mustard dipping sauce and garlic mashed potatoes with kale (see recipe below), before the much-anticipated cheesecake.
For four weeks, the students have been working with Bernstein and her friend Susan Bohonos. They’ve been mastering their knife skills, learning how to safely work a gas stove, learning how to chop, mix, bake and clean. Most importantly, they’ve been learning appreciation of new foods.
New foods that many adults know they should be eating, but may not know how to prepare.
Foods like kale.
Kale is a powerhouse when it comes to green options. Filled with beta carotene, vitamins K and C, and calcium, kale even contains DNA-repairing chemicals thought to help block the growth of cancer cells.
And, Bernstein said, it grows happily in this region, so it was an obvious choice to include kale on the menu.
Don’t be afraid of kale, Bernstein said.
“Chop it up and throw it in anything,” she said. “Your kids will eat it. They did today.”
The kids were in charge of all details in the kitchen and dining room, while Bernstein and Bohonos supervised and offered advice. The lunch was hosted at Bernstein’s home, took the entire school day to properly prepare, and included special guests Dr. Karen Nelson, superintendent of schools, and Chris Wejr, principal of Kent elementary.
“What a wonderful program,” Nelson said.
Food for Thought began as a once a week in Kent and Harrison elementary schools. Kids go into the school kitchens in small groups and learn how to make one healthy dish, such as power cookies or a special salad.
It’s been popular among the students, who are in both grades five six. But the idea to enhance the program with a final meal is a fairly new one. Bernstein’s hope is to see the program grow to include more schools in the district.
“We need to think more about what we eat,” she said. Starting with children when they’re young, and teaching them to find food locally, and ideally to grow it themselves, would help turn the tide against bad eating habits.
Eva Soloman has been in the program for the last two years at Kent.
“I like spending time with the people I know, and I like the cooking,” she said.
There isn’t a set budget in the school district for the program, and Bernstein volunteers her time spends about $15 a week on supplies and food. Donations of food and cooking tools come in from parents and the wider community,
The products they use are donated several nearby sources, including the Town Butcher, Farmhouse Natural Cheese, Cedar Isle Farms, SuperValu, Canadian Organic Hazelnuts and Agassiz Produce.
They get eggs and wheat from Cedar Isle Farms, and learn how to grind the latter down into usable flour.
Shaw Cable was also filming the program’s celebration, for a show called You Don’t Say. It will be aired mid to end of November, and will be in rotation on that station for one week, several times a day.
GARLIC MASHED POTATOES WITH KALE
4-6 medium sized local potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 cup kale finely chopped
1 tbsp local butter
1 tbsp natural yogurt
2 tbsp or more local milk
Sea or rock salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Scrub potatoes. Steam until fork tender.
Remove large stems from kale. Stack kale, roll, and finely chop.
Put potatoes in a bowl, mash, add butter, yogurt, milk and kale. Stir well with wooden spoon.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve while hot.
MAPLE WHIP CREAM
2 cups whipping cream
pinch of sea salt
2 tbsp maple syrup (or more if you like a sweeter taste)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Put cream in stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add pinch of salt.
Turn on low for 1 to 2 minutes. Turn up to medium.
When it starts to thicken, add maple syrup and vanilla and continue to whisk until desired thickness.
Top on your favourite dessert.