With the winter holidays quickly approaching, the Sag Harbor Elementary School took the initiative to host a special night where both parents and students could learn about nutritious and healthy ways to eat during a time of year when overeating is more likely than not.
Last Friday the school sponsored a “What’s for Dinner” workshop at Pierson High School, where elementary age kids cooked dinner in the cafeteria downstairs (with supervision of course), while their parents heard a presentation by a nutritionist upstairs. Approximately 64 students and their parents attended the event along with volunteers and guest chefs who helped the students create a meal for their parents. On the menu for the evening was pasta, and the kids were given all the ingredients to create their own version of the dish, with the stipulation that each portion would include a protein and at least two vegetables.
“It could not have been better,” said assistant principal Matt Malone. “We had such a good turnout.”
The evening started out smooth — all the kids were divided into small groups and were given a variety of different vegetables to cut. The youngsters sat at tables equipped with over-sized sanitary gloves and plastic knives and plates.
“The plates are biodegradable and made of corn, limestone and potato,” said elementary school guidance counselor Michelle Grant.
The children confidently chopped and cut the additional ingredients to put in their pasta with help from elementary school principal Joan Frisicano, Malone and Grant among others.
The children also learned about the different food groups. Some of the additional ingredients for the pasta dinner included chickpeas, turkey meatballs and chicken. As the children sat at their tables, they each chose a group leader to help choose which vegetables would be used in the pasta creation.
“I’ll be the cook,” a young boy said as he grabbed a piece of paper outlining the ingredients from the middle of the table, “Okay,” he said, “who likes broccoli?”
Two tiny hands shot up and answered with enthusiasm in unison, “I do.”
The kids each chose their own foods and worked well in their small groups as they also prepared a fresh salad and chose from broccoli, tomato, carrots or cranberries. For desert the students created a fruit cobbler with the option of blueberry, apple or pear. The beverage for the evening was water, served with a lemon, lime or orange for taste.
“It was great to see the kids enjoying it,” former school board president and volunteer for the evening, Sandi Kruel, said on Monday, “I am fortunate that we got to do that.”
“You have the perfect babysitters tonight,” Silver told the group of about 60 parents.
Silver noted that her presentation was a simple way for parents and kids to remember portion size. She explained that each person has a different size fist, in proportion to his or her body size, and this is a good indication of how much a person should be eating. Silver explained that for children, the fists are smaller, so the portion size should be smaller.
“Anyone can just look at their hands and see what the portion size should be,” said Silver.
In a handout for parents, Silver explained that every person — adult or child — can choose one fist of starch, protein, milk or dairy and two fists sizes of fruit or vegetables in putting together a meal. The thumb, she explained, can be used to gauge fat intake — the thumb tip, for example, is a good measure for an olive oil serving and the entire thumb for fatty foods like avocados and nuts.
One parent asked what kinds of juice children should drink. Silver responded that children should not be drinking a lot of juice, and recommended limiting it.
“Juice displaces other calories and fills them up,” she said, “it may give them vitamin C with the calories but they are missing out on other foods.”
When the parents went down to join their children in the cafeteria, Silver said she noticed how happy and proud the kids were with what they had created.
“Sense the children’s enthusiasm,” Silver said to parents, “look at what they made and try to incorporate it at home.”
Volunteers helped prep some of the ingredients ahead of time, including pre-cooking pasta, meatballs and other items on the menu. Kruel, said it would not have been possible without all the help from the other volunteers. Pierson High School lunch program, head chef, Lisa Becker helped prepare alongside Kevin Kruel and Kevin Major. Peter and Pam Miller, parents and former restaurant owners, also provided help on Friday, backed by Lauren Chapman, author of several cookbooks. Lesley Yardley, Jodi Crowley, Kathleen Mulcahy were also a part of the production.