Healthy Living in the North

The kitchen at Parkside Secondary School: More than a place to cook

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

Staff at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace.
L-R: Terri Finlayson (teacher), Jane Aubuckle (principal), David Griffin (teacher), and Laurie Mutschke (meal coordinator).

“However the spirit moves you.”

That’s the cooking advice you will often hear Laurie Mutschke, School Meal Coordinator, share with her students at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace. Among her other roles, she runs the school’s daily hot lunch program that serves meals made from scratch.

The school receives donations from the local Food Share program, Terrace Church’s Food Bank, Donna’s Kitchen and Catering, and Breakfast Club of Canada, along with food from the local community garden where the students help out. Nothing goes to waste – even the food scraps get put into the aptly named “Critter Bin.” The students also get credit for helping Laurie in the kitchen. When fresh produce shows up at the school, they often decide what to make for lunch.                        

I met with Laurie and Terri Finlayson, Foods, Science and Life Skills teacher, to learn more about the program. They recently celebrated the grand opening of their brand-new kitchen, and I was happy to get a tour of the beautiful facility. As we chatted, Laurie and Terri shared many stories. I quickly learned why their school’s kitchen is so much more than just a place to cook.  

Student and teacher cooking together.
L-R: Dakota Gull (student) and David Griffin (teacher).

Tell me more about the staff and students at your school!

Laurie: “[Parkside] is considered an alternate school… there is a lot of flexibility in terms of individual education plans. So, maybe today English isn’t something you want to do, maybe you can work in the kitchen. I think, along with the students being a unique group, we really do have a different blend of teachers with different passions.”

How did you start getting the students involved with cooking?

“Sometime they just come to you and say, “Can I help?” Sometimes I don’t even need the help, but I pull them in because I see that they need to come in. I will go to the teachers, and ask, “Can I have her help? She’s lost today, and she needs something.”

How has cooking helped you build connections with the students?

Terri: “As you’re busy cooking, you can have those conversations. If you’re sitting down, one-on-one, looking at them in the face, [students] will often shut down. But if you’re doing something else and you just casually start talking, you get into these topics that you normally never do.

And because [Laurie] doesn’t have that designated teacher role, a lot of kids feel comfortable talking to [her]. They come into the kitchen and now you’ve built that relationship. It’s a special thing, and you have to be a certain way as a person, not just a cook. You’re a counsellor, you’re a cook, and you’re also dealing with hygiene and teaching life skills.”

What other positive impacts has the cooking program had on students’ mental wellness?

Laurie: “They can feel good about themselves. They have a special job that makes them feel so important. On the lunch line someone says, ‘This is great, Laurie!’, and I say, ‘Don’t thank me – So and So made that!’ Just the connection you get over food, and their sense of their accomplishment.

Sometimes being in the kitchen becomes the reward. Not the eating of the food, but the preparing. We have a young lady who is on a very limited part-time schedule, but on certain days she does the baking… While they wait for whatever to be baked, [she] and her sister work on math in the kitchen. That then becomes her safe spot.”

What other activities are the students involved in?

Terri: “We take the students fishing and hiking, they gather the blueberries from up in Shames [Mountain]. We have an equestrian riding program. One of the teachers does crafts and sewing. I think that’s all part of the health piece too, because it helps them be healthy; not just eating, but in every way. A lot of them find that when they deal with their anxiety,they feel so much better.”

Laurie: “There is something here for everyone. Maybe you’re the kid that wants to go for a hike, or maybe you’re the kid that wants to cook in the kitchen. They do get excited because it’s taking the classroom outside, it’s not just sitting at a desk.”

People often say that the kitchen is the heart of the home. The staff and students at Parkside Secondary could not agree more! Just like at home, their kitchen wears many hats: it’s a place to build relationships, to learn new skills, to enjoy good food with friends, and most importantly, it’s a place to feel safe and cared for. 

Interested in starting a youth cooking program? Contact a Northern Health Population Health Dietitian for suggestions and resources at 250-631-4265 or PopHthNutrition@NorthernHealth.ca. Or visit the Northern Health Healthy Eating at School webpage.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Cooking with kids

Grilled cheese sandwich with vegetables and nuts as toppings.

Cooking with kids is a great way to spend time together and teach them invaluable skills! Kids as young as two years old can help wash vegetables and choose ingredients like the toppings for their own grilled cheese sandwich!

While it may seem more like work than fun, cooking with kids at any age is a great way to spend quality family time together while teaching important life skills.

Cooking with kids can be a gift that keeps on giving, now and in the future. When kids cook at home they are:

  • Exposed to healthy foods, which may positively shape their lifelong food preferences.
  • Given opportunities to build reading, math, chemistry and problem solving skills.
  • Provided opportunities to develop self-confidence and creativity.

Here are a few things to remember:

Provide age-appropriate opportunities to grow cooking skills.

  • Kids as young as two years of age can help in the kitchen with simple tasks like washing fruits and vegetables and adding ingredients to a bowl. By age 12, kids can have the skills to do independent meal planning and preparation. Check out the Nutrition Tools for Schools guide for more information on age-appropriate food skills
  • Supervise kitchen time and demonstrate safe food handling practices, including hand washing and keeping cooked and raw foods separate, as well as safe practices like working with knives and what to do in the case of a fire.

Ingredients for a grilled cheese sandwich

When cooking with kids, be sure to provide age-appropriate tasks, supervise for safety, keep it simple, and make it interactive. The skills kids learn will last a lifetime!

Keep it simple.

  • Choose recipes that have fewer steps and ingredients and/or take a portion of a recipe and let your child help. For example, your child may be able to whisk and scramble the eggs while you complete the other pieces to make breakfast burritos. Check your local library or online for cookbooks with simple recipes.

Make it interactive.

  • Especially in the beginning, cooking may mean letting kids choose from a variety of prepared ingredients to make their own version of the meal. In my home, “build your own meal” recipes have always been winners with all ages – our favourite being build your own pizza where everyone chooses from bowls of diced veggies, fruit and meat, grated cheeses and sauces like pizza sauce, pesto and hummus to top whole grain pita, tortilla or pizza dough.

Grilled cheese sandwich with lots of toppings.

Building your own grilled cheese sandwich is a great way to involve kids in cooking and along with a salad or soup, makes a delicious and balanced meal!

To get you started, try this recipe for “build your own grilled cheese sandwich”:

  • Bread (any kind you like)
  • Cheese (try mozzarella, cheddar, brie, gouda, or another favourite)
  • Toppings (sliced pears, apples, avocado or tomatoes; caramelized onions, cooked sliced potatoes, grilled vegetables like peppers or zucchini, spinach leaves, sliced meats, etc.)
  • Condiments (pesto, honey, mustard, jalapeno jelly, jam, etc.)

Lay the ingredients out and let your family pile all their favourite cheeses and toppings on the bread. Brush each side of the bread with a little vegetable oil and then bake, broil or grill until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. To make a balanced meal, serve with a green salad or a bowl of tomato soup!

For more healthy eating ideas and recipes like this, visit the recipes section on the Northern Health Matters blog!


 

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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