Making Curriculum Pop

Another great lesson plan from the New York Times Learning Network
January 11, 2011, 3:18 PM

Cook, Eat … Love? Learning to Prepare Nutritious Meals

Heads of State

Overview | Why don’t people cook at home as often as they once did? How can home cooking help people eat more healthfully? In this lesson, students debate the merits of nutrition, economics, quality-of-life and taste when it comes to home cooking and restaurant meals. They even roll up their sleeves to make a salad, stir-fry or grain dish, recipes the Times food writer Mark Bittman claims will make a home cook out of anyone. 

Materials | Computer with Internet access and projector, kitchen with cooking supplies, ingredients stated in provided recipes, poster board or PowerPoint

Warm-up | Students make charts with as many columns as there are people in their household, including themselves, with one person’s name at the top of each column. They fill in the columns with foods that students associate with their family members—and themselves. These might include things each person likes to eat, including snacks and meals they seem to eat often, favorite dishes requested for birthday celebrations or other food-centered events, and so on.

When students are finished, ask them to cross out anything that is manufactured to be “ready to eat,” like potato chips, granola bars, packaged cupcakes or frozen meals. Next, ask them to cross out anything that comes from a restaurant, fast-food outlet, deli, convenience store or cafeteria.

Ask them to keep crossing out until only items prepared in someone’s home kitchen are left. Have students give their charts one more pass, crossing out anything that is not made “from scratch,” like frozen pizzas, dry cereal, packaged deli meats, store-bought bread and so on. (You may want to review what processed foods are, giving an example like instant flavored oatmeal that comes in packets as opposed to old-fashioned rolled oats that contain only one ingredient.)

Have students tally the items remaining on their lists – giving partial credit to things that are made partially from scratch – and share them with the class. Ask: Are you surprised by the outcome of this activity? What did you learn about your family’s cooking and eating habits? Why do you think so many families rely on – and often prefer – prepared and processed items over fresh, home-prepared foods?

If students are willing to share, ask them about what goes on in their kitchens — how often someone prepares meals from scratch, whether the food preparer tends to be the same person, how appreciative the rest of the family is of the cook’s efforts. Also ask: What have you learned how to prepare and cook? What are your attitudes toward tasks like peeling and cutting vegetables and cleaning up after preparing food? Do you think cooking is hard, easy, worthwhile?

Wrap up by making class lists of things that encourage and discourage home cooks. Leave the lists on display, as students will revisit them after reading today’s article.

Related | In the Week in Review article “Chop, Fry, Boil: Eating for One, or 6 Billion,” food writer Mark Bittman writes about the perceived obstacles to eating a diet based on foods that are nutritionally sound and good for our environment:

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