Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Worldly Celebration

I was panicked when the phone rang at ten of six yesterday morning. A school cancellation would have been disastrous. I had about $40 worth of groceries waiting to be cooked and eaten as a holiday celebration in my class. Luckily, the call was for my husband and children in a neighboring district. I tiptoed out of the house, relieved that I could wrap up the week as planned and that I wouldn't have to make up this day in June.

We spent an hour and a half in the morning cooking an internationally themed meal. We haven't quite finished the human body systems unit yet, but in mid-January we'll turn our focus to world geography.

Kids selected which recipe they wanted to prepare and worked with three fantastic parent volunteers, preparing egg roll, a taco pie, and tiramisu. They also peeled potatoes which I dunked in a bowl of water until it was time to peel and shred them for latkes. Music played, everything went smoothly -- we even stayed on top of the dishes during the lag times in each recipe's preparation!

Now this is how you mash beans!
Shredding cabbage (above) and rolling egg roll (several pictures below).

Tiramisu means...
separating eggs
cooking a (zabalone) custard

layering coffee-soaked ladyfingers
and whipping cream the old fashioned way.
Ta dah!
After lunch, the kids settled in watching Cupcake Wars while volunteers met me in the back of the room to shred the potatoes. I pan-fried the egg roll and served the first round hot, during a break in the show. A couple of girls weren't that interested in the show and ended up measuring and pouring juice and bubbly water for spritzers, using up juice from last week.

Then we ate!

It couldn't be done without parent volunteers!
The egg rolls were polished off, and most everyone enjoyed the latkes and the taco pie.  Note to self: the taco pie would be an excellent pot luck dish.  One student was okay with the latkes, but had several enthusiastic helpings of the homemade applesauce from my freezer.The grand finale (for me at least) was the tiramisu. I'd never made it before so it has always seemed like a miraculous item that exists only in fancy restaurants. Kids enjoyed it, although some didn't like the intense coffee flavor. The lady fingers were a bit soggy with coffee (I'm not sure how quickly they were dipped...), but the custard and whipped cream were fantastic! I ate two servings and skipped dinner.

Everyone washed their dishes, we cleaned up the room, and voila! Happy New Years were exchanged and the room was empty.

Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Typical Friday Afternoon

Although I'm posting about our science/food lesson from Friday, I'm not going to begin to pretend that whatever happened, however it went, matters in the grandest of all schemes. Hopefully it was fun, hopefully kids learned something. And if it wasn't, and they didn't -- at least they all safely left the classroom at 3PM the same as on any other day. 

I can't even begin to write about a very different Friday afternoon in a school in Connecticut. There aren't words.

Instead I'm plugging away, recording the lesson du jour. 

Feeling very fortunate. And very sad.


Often a food lesson will begin with us reading as a class about an ingredient we're about to cook with. Friday I went to the math place instead. I gave kids a worksheet that had some basic info:
  • A 12 oz. can of soda has about 150 calories.
  • A 16 oz. bottle of soda has about 250 calories.
  • If you take in 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you gain a pound.
  • If you take in 3,500 extra calories less than what your body needs, you lose a pound. 
I answered a few questions and had kids do the math. Answers at the bottom of the post, in case you're inclined to do the math yourself.

How many calories do you take in over the course of a month if you drink a can of soda a day?
How many pounds does that equate to?
How many calories do you take in over the course of a year if you drink a can of soda a day?
How many pounds does that equate to?
Find the same answers if you drink a bottle of soda every day.

Kids toiled willingly over the multiplication and division. (I let fifth graders use calculators on the long division, which they will master in January.) I wish I had helped them set up the equations before starting, because some of them were disappointingly not so clear on which numbers and operations to use. Even though word problems are a part of our math program, I think it threw them for a loop to encounter math outside of that chunk of the day. Which makes me think that maybe I should do things like this more often...

We shared results and discussed the final question on the worksheet I'd given them: 
Why do you think it could be a problem if too many of your calories each day are from sodas instead of from other foods/drinks?
While some of them commented that they hadn't known about the caloric content of soda, most quickly recognized that drinking sugary beverages could cause them to gain weight, putting a strain on their hearts. Some also mentioned they might not eat as many healthy foods if they filled up on sodas. I introduced the term "empty calorie." I also emphasized that their bodies are growing and changing and that they are expected to gain weight as they grow. The purpose for calling attention to the calories in soda is to raise awareness of what they may be putting into their bodies and to set them up with some healthier habits now, habits that will serve them well throughout their lives.

On the back of their worksheet were two recipes for juice spritzers, both out of ChopChop magazine. One was 3/4 c. bubbly water mixed with 1/4 cup of juice, a 30 calorie drink. The other was a full cup of bubbly water mixed with a splash of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of maple syrup (10 calories). The original recipe called for honey, but I substituted honey because a) all of my honey at home is crystallized and I was too lazy to deal with it Thursday night, and b) both honey and maple syrup are expensive to buy, buy many of my students have syrup in their homes because they have family members who produce it each spring.

Kids had a fun time choosing from three flavors of bubbly water, orange juice, cranberry juice. Some added lemon juice to the first recipe. Some sampled the bubbly water plain and liked it. Almost everyone had an idea for how to play with the recipes at home. I reminded them that if they increased the juice content, the calories would go up, but still be lower than the average soda. 

Are sodas okay once in a while? Sure. Just like french fries. But as an everyday habit, it's worth thinking twice.

We cleaned up the room and I sent them out the door, not yet aware of how lucky we were to have had a typical Friday afternoon together.

                                                 Answer Key

one 12 oz. can of soda per day                    one 16 oz. bottle of soda per day
4,500 calories per month                                7500 calories per month
1.3 pounds per month                                     2.1 pounds per month
 54,000 calories per year                                  90,000 calories per year
15.4 pounds per year                                      25.7 pounds per year

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Potatoes: To Fry or Not To Fry

Definition of irony:
Yesterday I made oven baked french fries with my class. Because it's healthier that way.
In a couple of hours I'm going to shred up a bunch of potatoes, fry them in oil, and feed them to my family.

We've been learning about the cardiovascular system and researching how to keep it healthy. This week (and next week's) cooking projects have been designed with the intention of raising awareness about some of the less healthy habits many of them may have. And of course, providing alternatives.

Friday afternoon we read a mildly revised version of this article about fried foods and oils in our diets. We've been working on strategies for note taking when reading non-fiction text, so this was a perfect opportunity to put those skills into practice.

Next we got to working halving potatoes and cutting them into wedges. Emilyinthekitchen helped amp up our project by getting us sweet potatoes, parsnips and a couple of turnips in addition to the potatoes.

One of the turnips had a gnarly, rotten cavity in the center of it. This, of course, simultaneously sickened and fascinated one of the fifth grade boys. I sent him down to show Emily, thinking it was headed straight for the compost. Of course not! She made them wait while she used her wicked knife skills to cull the decent bits from the turnip and sent the sticks back, ready to be added to the rest of the pile.

As kids finished chopping, one student went around collecting the veggies and a few others worked with Su to coat them in oil, spread them on two pans, and sprinkle them with salt.

We sat down to prepare for our planned reading lesson.  But first, I snuck in a little math! We estimated that Su used about half a cup of canola oil for all the potatoes and their veggie friends. This sounds like an obscene amount of oil, but upon further investigation, it's not too bad. Half a cup of oil is eight tablespoons. A tablespoon of canola is 14 grams of fat. That means our entire recipe used 112 grams of fat. Using our mad estimation skills, we determined this is just under 5 grams of fat per serving. Considering we had just read that a single potato, cut up and deep fried, has 34 grams of fat, this is a significant improvement. We also had read about types of fats, and that deep fried potato was probably fried in a hydrogenated fat -- way less healthy than canola.

While we did our reading lesson, Su dealt with the oven end of things, and soon she was back in the room with a bowl full of oven baked veggies and the lovely, oily aroma that accompanied them. I'm sorry I didn't snap any pictures of us eating, but I am not kidding you when I say that they were polished off in under three minutes. Even the student who couldn't get over the fact that there wouldn't be ketchup  managed to enjoy himself.

Hannukah starts in a couple of hours. I'll be making latkes (fried potato pancakes) for my family to enjoy for dinner. This is a food we eat a handful of times a year. Ironic? Yes. But not entirely. Part of what we discussed yesterday is that eating french fries or other fried foods is okay once in a while. On a regular basis, not so much. Today is our once in a while. My hope is that our project yesterday has provided my students with the realization that on the days it's not once in a while, a yummy alternative is roasting some potatoes instead.

Happy Hannukah!