It’s official: school pizza still rocks.
That was the main course choice for the students of Highlands Elementary School who put on the latest “Kids Cooking” luncheon at the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Service Agency. Their “Under the Sea” luncheon, a culmination of classroom visits and hands-on experience with sharp objects and fresh food, was a banquet fit for the 100 or so people gathered in the school kitchen’s large workroom.
Walls were festooned with sea creatures. Cooks wore shark and crab hats. Each place at long tables was decorated with a hand-drawn placement featuring ocean-dwellers and shades of blue and green. A vast seascape hid equipment and provided a backdrop for the menu of “starfish” salsa with “nautical” nachos and chips, “seaweed” salad, “swordfish” fruit kabobs, “King Triton’s” pizza (three flavors!) and a “Hidden Treasure” dessert, all washed down with “pirate’s punch.”
The children, all wearing chef toques as they marched in with the flag, looked anxiously through the assembled crowd for parents and other family members. Likewise, it seemed nearly every parent had a camera or recorder of some sort to preserve this culinary achievement.
In other words, it was quite the party.
Jane Crawford, Director of Food Services and coordinator of the program, said that the agency is careful to try and give every school a chance to participate.
“We think we’ve had kids from every school over the 14 years of the program,” she said.
The agency serves Castaic, Newhall, Saugus, Sulfur Springs and Acton/Agua Dulce districts, serving 15,000 lunches and 4,000 breakfasts to 42 schools.
The program started in 1994, when the agency received a small grant from the Dairy Council.
“The Dairy Council and the Department of Education realized that the number of families sitting down to dinner was declining,” Crawford said. “With the importance of that both socially and nutritionally, as well as the importance of learning how to cook and develop culinary skills, they put together the “Kid’s Cooking” program.
“We took it and ran with it and were delighted with the results,” she said.
More than 400 students will have their turn in the kitchen this year. The program is so popular, many teachers have told Crawford that students long gone from the classroom have asked them if the cooking class is still around.
”They always say it was their favorite,” she said. “Teachers tell us all the time that it is the best field trip they’ve ever been on. I think that’s because it’s so hands-on, it’s not like when you take a trip to the bakery and have to keep your hands at your sides. You are cooking in this one and the kids have a blast.”
Student chef Alexis Romero said the experience was fun and something she wants to do again.
“We made salsa, but the salsa part was already made, but we had to cut tomatoes and onions and the onions got out of hand, so we had to go outside,” she said enthusiastically. “We had to wash our hands. But then we got to taste our salsa and our nachos and that was really good.”
Romero reported that she’s taken her skills home, making scrambled eggs and helping her aunt and mother with dinner. She hopes to make a double fudge chocolate cake soon.