Cooking and Community Celebrated in Princeton

While food security worries are not top of mind for young children, too many kids have first hand experience of what it’s like to be hungry.

John Allison Elementary School in Princeton wanted to make a difference for their students and launched the JA Kitchen Kids Program. Thanks in part to a $5,500 Valley First Community Endowment grant last year, the school was able to purchase the kitchen appliances, equipment, and of course, food, to get the project off the ground.

This year, Valley First provided an additional $3,000 Community Endowment grant to keep the program running.  Together with community volunteers, educators and gardening and cooking experts, JA Kitchen Kids is making a difference in the lives of local children and their families as they continue to alleviate hunger and influence children’s attitudes towards healthy eating.

JA Kitchen Kids aims to teach students in kindergarten to grade 3 age-appropriate kitchen skills. The focus is diverse and includes: healthy ingredients, garden produce, food safety, kitchen safety, sharing food and garden harvesting.

“We are leading our children to self-sufficiency though interactive projects through growing food and cooking,“ explains John Allison Elementary Teacher and Kitchen Kid’s Project Manager, Shirley Low. “In this way, they become aware of where food comes from and very young children learn to understand global lessons that basic needs are not always met for many people in the world.”

Weekly cooking workshops are at the heart of the program. These lessons introduce students to harvesting from the garden and creating comfort foods and ethnic dishes. Last year, they built a greenhouse. This fall, they are preparing the fruits and vegetables grown and harvested from the school community garden.

Special dietary needs of the students are also carefully considered as the program attends to those with food allergies, diabetes and gluten intolerance. Recipes are adjusted and special ingredients are used to meet everyone’s needs.

Many volunteers have helped make the project a success as members of the community have given back and helped the primary students learn to cook.  These include Valley First employees, active and retired teachers, former students, Rotary members and parents of John Allison Elementary students.

Cooking days are celebrated at JA Elementary as there is a tangible excitement and anticipation amoung students and staff. And the program benefits are not limited to students alone.  “There is a feeling of community in our school, as staff supports one another,” added Low. “We are closer as a staff and we are a more effective team when we care about the children who are in need of nourishment.”