by Robert Singer, Program Director for The Patachou Foundation
A simple trip to the grocery store can be a daunting task, even as a grownup: aisles and aisles of flashy packaging, sticking to a list and a budget, thinking about eating healthy, all while dodging other shoppers. Honestly, it takes practice.
Thomas Gregg is one of the schools where we regularly serve after-school meals. Eighty-five percent of students there receive free or reduced lunches and most are food insecure. Many of the kids live within walking distance of the school, located within a residential neighborhood, but the nearest grocery store is a not-very-walkable 2-3 miles away. This means families without reliable transportation might not make it to the store as often, so when they do, they need to make it count.
In the real world, adults must use a combination of math, science, reading, and critical thinking skills to solve problems. The Patachou Foundation embraces to learn by doing.
With the help of The Patachou Foundation, the 6th graders at Thomas Gregg have been working this semester on a service-learning project with the goal of researching and sharing ways to improve nutrition in their community. They decided to work towards a culminating event where they could share their findings: a community health fair at their school where the students would be able to provide small samples of food with recipe cards to show how healthy food can be easy, accessible, and fun.
First, we went over the safety rules in the kitchen and gave the students a hands-on lesson in knife skills and cooking with heat. Once everyone was on the same page, we were ready to make a meal as a class– but what to cook? It had to be nutritionally balanced (incorporating all five food groups), appetizing, and affordable.
The winning recipe? Taco salad.
On the day of the lesson, we met at the Kroger at 10th and Linwood to obtain the ingredients for our taco salad. With a challenge to keep the cost of our visit below $20.00, the students were given a problem that they had to figure out on their own: how do we get everything we need to make this recipe without spending too much money?
With minimal interference from the educators, the students accomplished this goal as a group and returned to the school to make the taco salad.
As we sat down to enjoy our taco salads, several of the students mentioned they had a greater appreciation for their meals now that they knew how much work went into them. Ultimately, I think the students were grateful to get out of the classroom and have a real experience where they were given responsibility and a “real-life” problem to solve. Many were excited to share their experience and even accompany their parents the next time they go shopping.
Our trip to the grocery store is a great example of the holistic approach needed to address the issue of food insecurity for our youth. The Patachou Foundation addresses the immediate needs of students by providing after-school meals each week, but through our intentional and targeted use of educational experiences, we are able to provide greater service to our students in the form of practical knowledge, experiences, and demonstrable skills.