Children’s Food Lab Promotes Wellness Through Science

by Emily Solomon
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name:  Children’s Food Lab

What they do: The Children’s Food Lab empowers young people to take control of their wellness through fun, hands-on, multi-disciplinary discovery labs. Founded by Jill Santopietro, the Lab hosts private classes and school workshops in which  students learn the “cool” stories behind the ingredients they eat all the time but may know little about, such as wheat, oats, carrots, milk, corn, eggs, avocado, cacao, and herbs. CFL labs incorporate science, technology, math, nutrition, culture, history, language, and the arts whenever possible. Using all five senses, students explore ways to cook, package, and present these foods, while also learning how their food choices affect the health of their bodies and their environment. The context and backstory of each ingredient creates a deeper connection among the students, their food, their community, and the environment – a connection that will last a lifetime and shape the course of a child’s health, and well-being.

How they do it: CFL lessons include a presentation and labs, as well as all ingredients and in-person instruction. The programming is customized to suit the individual needs of the school or classroom.
The Children’s Food Lab integrates hands-on food literacy and nutrition education into school curricula. If students are studying the ancient Mayans, for example, the CFL will supplement those lessons with the history of corn in Mexico, the biology of the plant, and common uses of corn today. Students can sprout corn seeds, grind corn into cornmeal, learn about nixtamalization, and make their own masa, tortillas, and quesadillas.

Science lessons on the freezing temperature of water versus other liquids are taught by making ice cream in a bag, and lessons on fruits are supplemented with a fun “Is that a fruit or a vegetable?” game. Hands-on lessons are a great way to make learning about food science and nutrition fun.

Latest project/campaign: Having started as after-school programming,the CFL transitioned to remote-only lessons and workshops during the pandemic and slowly returned to in-person  post-Covid.  The Lab now works as both a push-in and after-school program serving NYC and Westchester. This year, the NYC Mayor’s Food Ed initiative brought it to high-needs schools in the Bronx and Queens, and the Lab  is also now working with the Sleepy Hollow Middle School on a 6th grade Food Ed pilot.

Major Funding: Since the CFL is a for-profit organization, most schools receive grants to fund their programming.  

Profit/nonprofit: The Children’s Food Lab is a for-profit LLC. 

Annual Budget: Not disclosed

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: Since the company is only six years old, and two of those years were disrupted by Covid-19, it’s hard to say what impact their programming has had on the students or the larger food system, but  every learning moment can have a big impact on a child. When a student learns what an oat groat (seed) is, and that steaming it and rolling it with a rolling pin turns it into a single rolled oat, that moment is both surprising and eye-opening. From then on, every time they eat a granola bar or a bowl of oatmeal, they can better understand how oat seeds are grown and how tose foods got to their table. Creating something with their own hands is powerful. And education has to make learning both enjoyable and fun.


Location:  Tarrytown, New York

Core Programs:  Private cooking classes and school workshops

Number of staff: 1, plus an assistant 

Number of volunteers: 1

Areas served: All five boroughs and Westchester 

Year Started: 2018

Founders: Jill Santopietro

 Contact Information: To contact The Children’s Food Lab please visit their contact page here.

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