Food Education in NYC Schools: Eating in the Classroom Is Encouraged!

by Alexina Cather, MPH

By Lauren Lindstrom

The hallways of New York City’s schools are once again bustling with the footsteps and anticipatory chatter of the 1.2 million school children who headed back to the classroom this month. Though the students aren’t the only ones gearing up for the year ahead. Throughout the city, countless organizations work with schools to enrich the day by providing supplemental education and activities. Many of these groups promote healthier eating: advocating for stronger school meal standards, working to improve school food sourcing and purchasing, providing food and gardening curricula to teachers, offering nutrition education, and conducting in-school, experiential programming that teaches children about food and cooking. The New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College has compiled a list of organizations working on the latter — sending trained staff into schools to provide hands-on food education during the school day. In these programs, kids have the opportunity to touch, taste, smell, and experience food through fun, engaging, educational activities.


Bubble Foundation

What They Do: Bubble partners with schools to incorporate nutrition and wellness programming into their curriculum and culture. Bubble begins partnership with schools by identifying critical gaps in wellness, and then develops a customized plan to meet each school’s needs. Bubble works with schools over two years, in an intensive, weekly class format that seeks to make systemic changes that are sustainable beyond Bubble’s in-school presence. Bubble’s education programs target the entire school community, including students, parents, teachers, and administrators, to build wellness into the fabric of the school environment.

Mission: “We believe that every child in the U.S., regardless of socioeconomic status, should have access to activities, food and information that help them to live healthy and happy lives.”

Executive Director: Lizzie Redman

Year Founded: 2010

Hands-On Classroom Program: Bubble EATS is a cooking and nutrition curriculum that exposes children to trying new, whole foods. EATS is taught weekly and engages students in hands-on cooking and food exploration in a positive environment. Lessons are aligned to learning standards to incorporate math, science, and other academic subjects alongside food literacy.

Cost to Schools: Bubble programs are free; a fee-based after-school program is available for well-funded schools.

Other Core Programs:  Bubble MOVES explores fun ways to get kids exercising through lifelong fitness activities. Bubble GROWS brings healthy food to life as students grow their own food in the classroom and in school-wide gardens. Bubble also extends education to parents, caregivers, and teachers, so they can be strong role models and decision makers at home and in the classroom; this includes family meals, parent workshops, and teacher trainings.

Areas Served in NYC: Underserved areas of the city; contact Bubble Foundation at [email protected] to learn more

One Fun Recipe: Bubble’s Salsa

Learn More: Visit their website; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Coalition for Healthy School Food

What They Do: CHSF works to get healthy foods and nutrition education into schools. They conduct pilot programs, create educational resources, hold conferences, conduct speaking engagements and workshops, and work to change legislation. To date, they have supported two schools in the city in their switch to all-vegetarian school meals: PS 244 in Queens and the Peck Slip School in lower Manhattan.

Mission: “To introduce plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools to educate the whole school community.”

Executive Director: Amie Hamlin

Year Founded: 2004

Hands-On Classroom Program: CHSF staff teach students in grades 3-5 through their Food UnEarthed curriculum, which fosters critical thinking skills through a detective format to “Uncover the Truth About Food.” Lessons are weekly throughout the school year (a 6-week abbreviated program is also available) and include label reading, media literacy, food politics, and food and the environment; all lessons include a snack component.

Cost to Schools: Food UnEarthed is available at a cost to schools; however, many of CHSF’s nutrition education resources are free and available on their website.

Other Core Programs: Cool School Food works with school districts and businesses to develop and test plant-based recipes in school cafeterias (in NYC and Ithaca). The Family and Consumer Sciences Healthy Plant-Based Food Unit is a free healthy eating and cooking curriculum for middle school.

Areas Served in NYC: All five boroughs; any school is eligible.

One Fun Recipe: Black Bean Casserole (50-serving recipe approved for use in NYC Schools)

Learn More: Visit their website; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Common Threads

What They Do: Common Threads believes cooking is a life skill. Through hands-on cooking programs and nutrition education, the nonprofit organization provides a preventative health program solution to children, families, and teachers in underserved communities.

Mission: To educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, empowering them to be agents of change for healthier families, schools, and communities.

Executive Director: Linda Novick O’Keefe

Year Founded: 2003

Hands-On Classroom Program: Small Bites is a nutrition and cooking education program for K-8th graders that provides interactive, hands-on lessons to support core content areas, with additional extension lessons aligned to Common Core Standards; the program is taught by either the classroom teacher or Common Threads’ staff.

Cost to Schools: Common Threads is committed to serving schools in high need communities; as such they provide a limited number of fully-funded programs each year, with additional programs available at a range of reasonable prices. Contact CT at 512-879-3380 to discuss partnership.

Other Core Programs: After-school programs include Cooking Skills & World Cuisine, which engages students in a global exploration through healthy meal preparation, following a recipe and preparing a low-cost, healthy meal, and Family Cooking Class, which engages families in the art of eating well through hands-on learning in the kitchen. Classes for teachers include a one-time, hands-on Teacher Cooking Class that promotes the importance of incorporating nutrition lessons into the curriculum, and a Healthy Teacher Training, a healthy eating and cooking education program designed to equip teachers, principals, and school staff with the knowledge and tools necessary to transform their own health and well-being. Parent Workshops provide interactive presentations on basic nutrition, grocery shopping, and cooking with kids.

Areas Served in NYC: Currently working in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens; any school is eligible to apply.

One Fun Recipe: Sweet Potato Black Bean Empanadas; download their free Cooking for Life Handbook at www.commonthreads.org for other great recipes and resources.

Learn More: Visit their websites: Common Threads and Common Bytes; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Edible Schoolyard NYC

What They Do: Committed to bringing Alice Waters’ vision to New York City public schools, Edible Schoolyard NYC fights childhood obesity by educating students to transform their relationship with food through interdisciplinary, hands-on garden and kitchen experiences.

Mission: “To partner with public schools to transform the hearts, minds, and eating habits of young New Yorkers through garden and kitchen classes integrated into the school day.”

Executive Director: Kate Brashares

Year Founded: 2010

Hands-On Classroom Programs: Edible’s Demonstration Schools Programs work with two schools, PS/MS 7 & Global Tech Preparatory in East Harlem and PS 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Students attend hands-on gardening and cooking classes as part of the regular school day; in coordination with partner organizations, cafeterias use more fruits and vegetables and cook more meals from scratch; and Edible staff offer evening cooking workshops and other events for families and the larger community. Edible’s Network Schools Program, through a partnership with FoodCorps, works with three schools located in low-income areas with high rates of diet-related disease: Evergreen Middle School for Urban Exploration in Bushwick, Brooklyn, PS 109 Sedgwick in Morris Heights, Bronx, and PS 311 Lucero in Mount Eden Bronx. Edible staff work in schools to expand the gardens, add kitchen classes, and promote a culture of healthy food.

Cost to Schools: There is no cost to Demonstration or Network schools.

Other Core Program: Edible’s Professional Development Program invites teachers, nonprofit workers, and volunteers to Demonstration Schools to learn the tools and curriculum to incorporate into their own classrooms; most workshops are free; see here for more information.

Areas Served in NYC: Currently working in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.   

One Fun Recipe: Plant Part Salad

Learn More: Visit their website; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Red Rabbit

What They Do: Partner with New York City schools to provide fresh, healthy meal programs and educate kids, teachers, and families about nutrition and healthy eating; Red Rabbit is a Certified B Corporation.

Mission: “To provide all children with access to nutritious, made-from-scratch meals in school, while encouraging them to explore, learn and grow healthy relationships with food that will last a lifetime.”

Owner: Rhys Powell

Year Founded: 2005

Hands-On Classroom Programs: Red Rabbit’s Food Labs offer learning opportunities in the classroom (and in after-school programs) to empower kids to try new, healthy foods. The Labs use all plant-based recipes to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, and work with kids as young as 3 through adults. In Cooking Labs, kids explore their senses and prepare nutritious recipes using whole foods. In Bite-Size Labs, Red Rabbit educators provide 30-minute in-classroom lessons on healthy foods and how they grow, with related activities and snacks to explore. In Gardening Labs, students are taught how food grows and given hands-on experience growing their own fruits and vegetables; even schools without an outdoor space can participate.

Cost to Schools: Food Labs are available at a cost to schools; however, Red Rabbit offers discounted pricing for qualifying programs to reach as many children as we possible.

Other Core Programs: Red Rabbit provides in-school meal delivery to preschools and Head Start, private and independent schools, charter schools, summer camps, and after-school programs, and offers special pricing for schools receiving federal reimbursement. Meals are made entirely from scratch and use whole, fresh ingredients, with no processed or fried foods and no additives.  

Areas Served in NYC: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens

One Fun Recipe: Green Pea & Edamame Dip

Learn More: Visit their website; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Spoons Across America

What They Do: Spoons Across America works nationally, including in NYC, to promote healthy eating among children and their families. Spoons provides a network for sharing information and resources; runs programs in schools, health care and community-based organizations, and the workplace; supports programs through curriculum development, technical assistance, and capacity building; and partners with organizations to design, fund, and deliver programs.

Mission: “Spoons Across America,® the recipe for healthier children, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating children, teachers, and families about the benefits of healthy eating. We work to influence the eating habits of children through hands-on education that celebrates the connection to local farmers and the important tradition of sharing meals around the family table.”

Executive Director: James Grosso

Year Founded: 2001

Hands-On Classroom Programs: Spoons’ core curriculum begins in the 2nd grade with the Farm to Book program, taught monthly for the entire school year; each session includes a tasting component as well as an additional hands-on activity that connects to current Common Core Learning Standards. Take a Taste with Spoons is a three-session food and nutrition literacy program for third graders that gives children the opportunity to delve deeper into the discovery of taste, develop increased vocabulary around food and flavor, learn more specific information about nutrition and healthy choices, and make simple recipes. Spoons Recipe Days is a year-long program for fourth graders; activities are presented in a fun, hands-on manner with opportunities to learn kitchen skills, kitchen science, and food origins; monthly lessons connect to classroom curricular goals, including STEM, and COMMON CORE Learning Standards in English Language Arts and math. In The Dinner Party Project, children are responsible for planning, preparing, and hosting a multi-course dinner for their families in the school cafeteria. Over the course of eight weekly consecutive sessions, children expand their understanding of nutrition, food safety, meal planning, table setting, and cooking. Spoons Across America is the primary NYC implementer of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York Agriculture Literacy Week each spring; Spoons’ volunteers read an agriculture-themed book to second graders, and conduct related lessons and activities.

Cost to Schools: Free to all NYC public schools.

Other Core Programs: Spoons has worked in after-school programs, community centers, and partnered with other organizations and businesses to bring their programming to a variety of children, families, and communities.

Areas Served in NYC: They work throughout the city and are currently working with schools in four of the five boroughs.

One Fun Recipe: Chef Bobo’s Recipes for a Mexican Fiesta

Learn More: Visit their website; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Wellness in the Schools

What They Do: Through meaningful public-private partnerships, WITS empowers schools to provide healthy, scratch-cooked meals, active recess periods, and fitness and nutrition education. WITS actively engages students and school staff in a fundamental reimagination of the lunch and recess experience. Trained culinary graduates partner with cafeteria staff to feed kids real food, and fitness coaches encourage schools to let kids play. In doing so, they shift the culture of a school.

Mission: “To inspire healthy eating, environmental awareness, and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools.”

Executive Director: Nancy Easton

Year Founded: 2005

Hands-On Classroom Program: The Cook for Kids program works with schools to feed kids real food. WITS Chefs work with schools to transform the cafeteria menu, train school staff, and provide nutrition education to students, teaching them to prepare simple, affordable, and healthy recipes that they will then experience in the lunchroom.

Cost to Schools: The Cook for Kids program is available at a cost to schools; however WITS offers the program at reduced cost to low-income schools.

Other Core Programs: The Coach for Kids program encourages schools to let kids play to reach the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity by working with schools to reinvent recess, train staff, and provide fitness education to students. The Green for Kids program combines edible gardening and environmental education through hands-on, experiential learning in the school garden. WITS partners with the Office of SchoolFood’s Garden to Café program to share produce with cafeteria salad bars and at Garden to Café events.

Areas Served in NYC: See their map for current school partners (they also work in New Jersey, Florida, and California).

One Fun Recipe: Chef Telepan’s Kale Slaw (Chef Bill Telepan of the Michelin-starred restaurant, Telepan, serves as Executive Chef of WITS)

Learn More: Visit their website; follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Is your organization working to bring hands-on food education to kids in schools? Share information about your program with us in the Comments section.

Photo credit: Spoons Across America

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1 comment

Barbara Turk September 14, 2016 - 6:24 PM

Cookshop, a program of Food Bank of New York City, is the oldest and certainly largest nutrition education program in the City. Cookshop Classroom is used in approximately 1,300 public elementary and after-school classrooms and reaches about 40,000 participants annually. The model uses a train-the-trainer approach. Every educator participating in the program is provided with the tools needed to implement CookShop, including training, ongoing technical support, complete curriculum materials and all of the food, supplies and equipment needed for cooking lessons and class activities.

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