Eating food can create experiences for us beyond nourishing our bodies. Oftentimes, we remember foods that were a comfort to our souls, that made us feel better, or that remind us of an event. Just last week my family and I went on a vacation to Northern Idaho. We had gone several years prior, and while we were there, we went to a local pub. This pub was small (not a chain restaurant), everything was locally sourced and excellent quality. The prices were right for a young family, so we stayed and ordered dinner. The food was beyond anything we had eaten in a long time. I ordered the tri-tip dip. The meat was thickly cut and cooked to perfection. The ciabatta roll was clearly house made. Inside, the meat was layered with ooey-gooey Swiss cheese. I’ve had my fair share of french dips in my day, but this one really took the cake. Everything about it tasted refreshing (not typically the word you would use to describe a meat sandwich, but the ingredients tasted that good). It was one of those places with lots of charm and one you fall in love with. We wished we could stay and try everything on the menu!
Needless to say, when we planned our trip back to Idaho this year, instantly my husband and I thought back to that night in the pub. That food connected our memories to a wonderful vacation experience. We decided it was worth going back. Again, the meal did not disappoint. In fact, we decided to branch out and try other small, locally owned restaurants on our trip. We have now added several more to our list and have created many more fun memories of Idaho with our children.
Now, this is a just a memory of eating while traveling. I find that cooking food can also have the same resonating effect on literature. Oftentimes, when we read a book, it takes place in a particular part of the world or during a particular time era. It’s fun as a child to imagine what life would be like to live and experience the things that we read in books. However, without actually knowing what something feels and/or tastes like, it can be difficult to ingrain new information to memory. Cooking foods described in books, with children, can do just that!
Cooking with children can provide many benefits:
- It creates a sense of togetherness. Whether this is done at home or in a whole classroom setting, it helps bond us with our children.
- It teaches children an important life skill. Something often lacking in homes today, many parents don’t have time to explicitly teach children how to cook. This gives them opportunities that they may not have in their own homes.
- It gives children a sense of accomplishment. Many feel that they can’t cook at such a young age. By giving them the tools they need and guiding them, they get an immediate reward when they see their hard work come to fruition when they taste their food.
- It can provide sensory memories that just talking and reading can’t.
What would this look like in homeschool or in the classroom?
This week my children and I read the book Blueberries for Sal. Given that many farms have fresh blueberries available for picking right now, I thought this book would be perfect for a quick summer read.
During the read aloud, it is important to discuss the importance of the book and how it will tie into your cooking project for the week. In this particular book, little Sal and her mom are going to pick blueberries to can for the winter. Most children don’t understand the method of canning and/or why canning is/was so important to families. Food is so readily available at stores. You can even get fresh fruits out of season. When children think of canning, they probably imagine tin cans that store veggies or soups.
I discussed with my girls the process of canning. This can easily be done in the classroom. I would even encourage you to bring in a canning jar and lid, so that your students can actually see what a typical canning jar looks like in person. You may have one on hand; if not, Goodwill often sells these for cheap.
After reading the story and discussing important information, I thought it would be best to have my girls pick the blueberries themselves. It was fun to see their excitement over what many adults would find to be an exhausting task. They happily picked away. We even talked about hearing the “kerplunk” sound the berries made in our buckets like we read about in the book. Picking berries probably isn’t an option for you as a classroom teacher (unless you find it wise to spend your field trip money to do so). However, there are options for you! Many parents are happy to donate food items (as well as the farms themselves). If you explain that you are using the food to cook with kids, many would be willing to donate a pound of fresh fruit for the cause. If all else fails, frozen blueberries work just as well after they are thawed.
When we got home, the cooking process began! It’s incredibly important to give the students (or your children) the reins in the kitchen. They won’t take as much ownership over the food if you are doing most of the work. I had my children do everything, including scooping the berries, squeezing lemons (super fun!), and measuring out dry ingredients. Of course, I acted as facilitator, monitoring as they went along.
You may be thinking, How this can be accomplished in the classroom? You will need to get creative. In past years (prior to homeschooling), I would bring in skillets or crock pots, or I would use the multi-purpose area at my school. It had an oven and a sink for us to use.
Some recipes don’t require much work, but when you have a classroom of 20+ kiddos, you want all of them to feel involved. If you make cooking a part of your weekly routine, you could have a “chef” as a weekly job that gets rotated throughout the year. So over the course of the year, all children get involved. You can also create a running list, using as many kiddos as possible to participate in a single recipe, with each student getting to do just one part of the recipe. Then, the next time you cook, those who didn’t get a chance to prepare the meal would then have a chance to do so.
If you’re interested in doing a Blueberries for Sal recipe in your classroom, you can use this Easy Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter recipe.
Want more cooking and literacy ideas?
Goldilocks and the Three Bears (any version): This is one of my favorite cooking connections for kids. Many kiddos can tell you what oatmeal is, but they will look at you blankly when you ask them to describe porridge. I can guarantee you that porridge will be a vocabulary word they will never forget if they can make it and try it in the classroom!
Thundercake by Patricia Polacco: Make the thundercake recipe listed in the back of the book.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess: Cue the chorus of “ewww, green eggs!” This is a great one to see which of your kids will be adventurous enough to try them.
Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola: Make the pancakes from scratch. Many will be surprised that you don’t just add water to a box of pancake mix.
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman: The recipe is in the back of the book. If you have access to an oven at your school, this will hands down be a favorite of your students!
These are just a few ideas. There are many ways to incorporate cooking with literacy, especially with non-fiction books. I encourage you to think outside the box, find recipe connections, and create many fun-filled (and delicious) memories in your classroom.
Kristal is a homeschooling mom to two girls and a new mom to a baby boy. Prior to homeschooling, Kristal taught first grade and kindergarten for five years. She is a TPT Teacher-Author and blogger at A Place of Story. She also runs a Facebook page.