Walking into the cafeteria at Smithville Elementary School you can feel the energy of kids learning! They are excited but focused as the instructor shows the ingredients of a delicious recipe. This cafeteria is much more than a place to come and eat nutritious meals; here students also get to help make them. Kids are about to learn how much they love spaghetti squash!
This spring, No Kid Hungry visited Smithville Independent School District in Texas during an afterschool meals program where kids were doing much more than eating - they were learning about new meal offerings and even participating in a cooking demonstration of spaghetti squash and fresh tomato herb sauce with their families!
Candy Beihle, the child nutrition director at Smithville ISD shared “It is about giving students a new experience with things they may have never tried… These are kids who don't normally get the opportunity to try and experience some of the foods they did today.”
Students were asked to help shred the spaghetti squash with forks and, if they tried the meal, they received an “I tried it!” sticker. After the demonstration, Beihle asked students to raise their hands if they’d like to see spaghetti squash as a regular menu item in the cafeteria and students overwhelmingly said yes! Students and their families were also given handouts that shared information about the meal, its benefits and how to prepare it at home.
Your support and donations to No Kid Hungry funded the grant that helped the district implement the cooking demonstrations. Smithville ISD is a participant in the Texas Rural School District Cohort which brings together six rural districts across the state to participate in bi-monthly meetings designed to support peer-to-peer collaboration and innovation around the unique challenges and opportunities associated with feeding students in rural school districts. Each district was awarded $30,000 to expand and improve their child nutrition programs and Smithville ISD chose to implement cooking demonstrations for their community and increase the school’s local food consumption through partnerships with farms.
“This is our first year to have this relationship with No Kid Hungry and it’s been wonderful,” explained Beihle. “It has opened so many doors for so many things at Smithville ISD that we did not realize were out there to help us and give us extra assistance. We think it’s awesome.”
Superintendent Cheryl Burns said, “I think that the opportunity for kids to participate in this kind of program and having the funds we received to help grow our program is something that education can be proud of. Partnerships are extremely needed… in times like this where people are uncertain about their futures.” She added that many families, because of increased costs, are spending much more at the grocery store than they’re used to.
For one parent of the district, Molly Cox, she sees school meals as an opportunity to introduce new meals to her kids “If the school is helping me reintroduce vegetables and fruits, it’s a win win for them and me because it’s helping their health.” She shared that her kids love the variety that school meals offer.
The district will continue to hold cooking demonstrations for kids and the community as a way to teach them about healthy meal options and healthy eating at home as well as increasing local food consumption.
“It’s a passion. When you come to work for Smithville ISD, feeding kids is a priority,” said Superintendent Burns.
Smithville ISD’s cafeteria is much more than an area to congregate and eat - it’s also a classroom where students can learn more about where their food comes from and how healthy food consumption is key to a successful school day!