Ingredients for Successful Classroom Cooking

Ingredients for Successful Classroom Cooking

Enjoying a fresh harvest of vegetables is one of the best parts of gardening with students! In celebration of Eat, in our Plant, Grow, Eat, Share charter, we are sharing our top ingredients for successful classroom cooking.

It has been well documented and observed by teachers that students who have helped grow, harvest, and prepare fruits or vegetables are more likely to try them, and more likely to like them and try them again. However, this does not come from teachers making students try new foods. Students are often curious to try foods they have grown. Let your students know that you hope they will try new things, but they won’t be required to eat anything. For picky eaters, you can encourage tasting or experimenting as opposed to ‘eating’. This will help students feel safer and less apprehensive about trying new foods. Forcing students to try foods can actually be counterproductive to forming positive associations with healthy foods. Don’t fret: some students may need to see a food several times before they feel safe to try it, and the may need to try it several times before they like it. 

Ingredients for successful classroom cooking:

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead will help you minimize anxiety and risk. When planning out your lesson, consider the flow of the class, placement of the students and supplies. Think safety first and know what your students are allergic to before selecting your recipe.

Wash Your Hands

Be strict about hand-washing and model this good behaviour. Show students how you don’t just wash your palms, but between your fingers too. The ideal amount of time for hand-washing is at least 20 seconds. If anyone touches their face or hair, gently remind them to wash their hands again. Younger kids might need frequent reminding!

Talk About Knife Safety

Take a few minutes and discuss kitchen or cooking rules and special behaviours when using tools and knives. You might even brainstorm and agree on your own rules as a class! Small children can use plastic knives, metal butter knives, and lettuce cutters with close supervision. Ensure each student cutting vegetables has their own cutting board.

Make It Hands On

Try to make sure every student has something to do. This usually means that recipes, though simple, are labor intensive. Are their ways you can make more tasks from a simple recipe? Tasks can include: reading the recipe aloud, checking to be sure that you have included all of the ingredients, washing produce or dishes, drying dishes, measuring, stirring, adding to compost or helping another student.

Do the Rot Thing: Compost!

Set aside a bowl or tray for scraps to put in the compost at the end of class. This is a great time to talk about food waste and what we can do to keep food out of the garbage. If you’re interested in making a classroom vermi-composting bin, check out this guide from Cal Recycle.

Tell the Story of Your Ingredients

Spread all of your ingredients out on a table at the front of the room. Tell your students some information about each ingredient – where did it grow, what farm was it bought from, where did the food originate, why you like it, the different nutrients in each ingredient. Discuss what part of the vegetable you will be eating and what you will be discarding. You might pass around some of the vegetables or fruits and prompt sensory questions like ’what does this smell like?’, ‘what does it look like?’ or ‘does it feel soft or rough?’.

Connect Your Food to the Farm.

Ask the students what they know about the farms that would grow their vegetables. You can ask: Has anyone ever been to a farm? What did you see there? How do these vegetables or fruits grow: on trees, in the ground, on a vine?

Make Connections to Curriculum

Consider what curriculum connections you would like to make as you are planning your lesson. Can you introduce the ingredients ahead of time to make the lesson more successful? Is there a children’s book you can read about a particular ingredient and where or how it is grown? Is there an art or journaling activity that you can include at the end of the cooking lesson?

Take Time to Reflect

Take time to reflect after your cooking class. This is a great time to incorporate journaling activities. Ask your students to work separately or in small groups and write out the steps of the recipe you prepared. See if they can write out all of the ingredients. Ask them to discuss or record what each student’s favorite task was. If students were to remake the recipe are there any ingredients they would change, or use more or less amount of? Why?

A few simple activities to extend the learning!


Bring several cooking instruments to class – think ladle, cheese grater, garlic press, potato masher and more. Show students each instrument and have them pass each one around the room. First, ask students to predict what the tool is used for in cooking? After that, ask them to invent a new use for this tool. Students can use their journals to draw or write their predictions or have a class discussion. 

Try a Taste Test

Use some of your raw ingredients and try a taste test. This is a great time to introduce the concept that eating is a full sensory experience. Have students touch the food, smell the food, look at the food and describe it. Ask students to take a bite and listen. Do they hear anything? Carrots and apples are great for their crunch! Lastly, ask students to describe the taste. You might ask students to list the descriptive words for each sensory experience in their journal. Have them rate the taste, smell, sight, sound and touch of the vegetable from one to 5 in their journals. You might try this at the beginning of the year and end of the year to see if tastes have changed. Again, let students know that you hope they’ll try the vegetable, and it’s ok it they don’t like it. 

Build Back Your Recipe

Put students into pairs or small groups. Use a recipe that has many steps and print out each step individually. Have students work together to arrange the correct order of steps. Have students stand up and get up out of their desks, to arrange themselves in order of the correct steps. Have them guess what the recipe is for AFTER they’ve placed all steps in the correct order.

Little Green Thumbs Recipe Book

For more classroom cooking ideas, download our Recipe Book, with contributions from Little Green Thumbs teachers and coordinators across the country!


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