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Cooking up an education

WDC sixth-grader Reid Miller (middle) serves first-grader Alexander Moe marinara sauce for his Italian Dunkers while head cook Arlis Kern looks on.

Donning a white chef's hat, Wadena-Deer Creek sixth-grader Reid Miller got to be a cook for a day in the WDC kitchen.

"This is awesome!" Miller said, as he scooped up marinara sauce for WDC students.

It's a new program at WDC Elementary School called Young Cooks, and it teaches students how the food service staff determines what's served and how the meals are prepared. It also gives students a new appreciation for what goes on behind the food line each day.

WDC Food Services Director Sandie Rentz said the program is a win-win for students and the food service staff.

"When I'd meet with the elementary cooks, they'd talk about the cute things students would say and do, but they did not have any direct contact with the students," Rentz explained. "So Arlis Kern (head cook) and I met one day and we decided the "Young Cooks" program was a great way for the students to learn about what goes into preparing each meal. Just like at home, it doesn't just appear on your plate, only school lunch is on a bigger scale."

Throughout the school year, classes will take their turns in the Young Cooks program. Norm Gallant's sixth-grade class had their "lunch day" on Jan. 6. Before their special day, Rentz and Kern visited Gallant's class where they discussed what goes into meal planning. The class voted on what items they wanted on their special menu. Then, the class took a tour of the kitchen, where students got to meet the staff, see the walk-in coolers and the shiny stainless steel tables and counters.

The meal Gallant's class chose included: Italian Dunkers (French bread with cheese and garlic), marinara sauce, smiley fries (tater tots with smiles), strawberries, apples, pineapple, bread and milk.

Every 15 minutes, students worked a shift, assisting food service staff with various duties, from preparing the fruit, to making sandwiches and serving the food. Kern said the students welcomed the hands-on experience.

"They were such good workers. They helped so much. When their shift was done, they didn't want to leave!" said Kern with a chuckle. "It was really a lot of fun for us too."

Gallant's class was buzzing with excitement after their special day in the kitchen on Jan. 6. The experience taught his kids many valuable lessons, he said. "My kids absolutely loved the experience. ... They got to know the kitchen staff, so they built a small relationship with more adults who care about kids. They learned about the reasons that foods are picked for menus. They also learned what benefits certain foods have for their bodies and how the food service staff balances different foods to provide vitamins and nutrients that students need to do well in school and grow."

Parents received an invitation to eat on their child's special lunch day. However, parents are encouraged to join their child for lunch any day of the week, Rentz said.