If the food didn’t strictly look like a vegetable–and of course, processed foods like store-bought pasta do not–it was hard for them to imagine how that particular food had gone from farm to table.
Moreover, it was hard for these children to imagine how historical peoples from around Asia, which they were studying, had managed to figure out how to turn a wild grass like wheat into the domesticated and versatile product it is today, and how to turn the hardy brown grain into the finely-ground white flour we use in thousands of products.
So, they reached out to our team at Butter Beans for assistance. Our educators were happy to roll up our sleeves and come up with a hands-on lesson plan to help them make these connections. Our first and last thought: dumplings.
Dumplings, which we prepared with wheat-based wrappers and served alongside rice for contrast, are an incredibly fun and educational food to prepare with groups of children. A few things we like about doing dumplings with kids of all ages:
- Dumplings are part of the worldwide family of “pocket foods,” including ravioli, pierogi, empanadas and many other dishes, so almost every kid can find some connection to this dish via their own home culture.
- While dumpling wrappers can be handmade, they can also be purchased cheaply (about $2.50 for a packet of 50 at Whole Foods), making it an activity unlikely to break the school budget, especially if each kid makes a single dumpling.
- When preparing dumpling filling, there are many different ingredients and techniques involved, ensuring that every kid stays busy and gets to contribute. While we teach all of our students the same knife skills that adults might learn in a cooking class (with kid-safe knives, of course), some students might also find that they’re more comfortable working a grater or even using scissors to break down herbs.
- All of our recipes are vegetarian–the best fit for our health-aligned mission, as well as NYC’s diverse population–and this one provides an especially appealing vehicle for vegetables that are simply minced and tucked inside. That said, they also allow kids (and parents) to see that they can easily add flavor to veggie-based dishes without using animal protein, i.e. by adding garlic and ginger and by creating a punchy, salty sauce using just soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.
When cooking in the classroom, family involvement makes all the difference
Speaking of cultural connections: Not only did this lesson kick off a Chinese New Year celebration, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note how important it was to have parent involvement in this activity, which involved constructing over a hundred dumplings with four groups of students in a sink-less school classroom. Parent volunteers made this flurry of tasks possible by staffing the pan-frying station, clearing dishes and providing pep talks. (Full disclosure: Belinda DiGiambattista, founder of Butter Beans, was one such parent.)
Being able to invite parents into the classroom space is a rare opportunity for us educators. We want them to see the hard work that their kids are doing and to feel a part of the community. We also know that as partners in caregiving, educators have an important role to play in helping parents to expose their kids to foods they might not try at home. For example, parents don’t have the benefit of peer pressure, which can often convince picky toddlers or teens that being courageous in the kitchen is cool. After seeing their children open up and try new foods in class, many parents said that they were excited to try this recipe at home with their children, and some even left with to-go kits of leftover filling and wrappers to try it again that very night. When it comes to convincing New York kids to try new plant-based foods, it truly does take a village!
By, Ryan Cherecwich, M.Ed, Butter Beans Wellness Educator