Members of the culinary team at Deerfield Retirement Community in Urbandale, Iowa, recently spent seven weeks cooking up some delicious treats with the help of an enthusiastic group of elementary students. The endeavor was part of a spring semester partnership between the community, Samuelson Elementary School, and ASAP – the After School Arts Program that offers applied arts curriculum for underserved children attending Des Moines Public Schools.
Deerfield Director of Culinary Services Matt Monaco and Executive Chef Aaron Vetter visited Samuelson every Friday. Titled Classic Snacks from Scratch, the class featured traditional “kid-friendly” menu items prepared with a healthy and fresh twist. Some staples covered in the curriculum included zucchini fries with homemade marinara, fruit smoothies, granola bars and quesadillas.
“Kids’ menus are pretty much the same no matter where you go because children naturally love food that is catered to their tastes and preferences,” explained Monaco. “Our aim was to show local students how to make relatively healthy versions of their favorite meals. My team is very passionate about sharing our knowledge and expertise with the next generation, and this program was a rewarding experience.”
Each student participant was involved in the full scope of food production, including recipe review, prep work and assembly. Monaco and Vetter also shared lessons on kitchen organization, seasoning, portion sizes, and the benefits of cooking from scratch compared with prepackaged meals.
Monaco noted, “We loved every minute of it, and the kids absolutely enjoyed it too. I really think this has the potential to be a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.”
Deerfield donated more than $3,600 in both time and supplies toward the endeavor. Much like the Lifespace home office, the community champions good nutrition for everyone because it recognizes the benefits of a healthy diet. Studies show that children who eat healthier snacks perform better in school than those who eat more junk food.
Michelle Bolton King, ASAP executive director, commended Deerfield for helping her organization make a difference within the local area.
“Working with children is both a privilege and a joy, especially kids who need extra encouragement or those who don’t have access to special opportunities like this one,” said King. “We loved building a program that intentionally helps young people open up to new ideas and different ways of working.”
[In the Photo: Deerfield Executive Chef Aaron Vetter leads a culinary class on a Friday afternoon at Samuelson Elementary School.]