Santa Fe, New Mexico is known for its rich culinary tradition, but beyond the hotels, art galleries, and restaurants there are communities struggling to find fresh produce and a healthy way of eating. Cookbook author and restauranteur Lynn Walters founded the non-profit Cooking With Kids: Hands-On Food and Nutrition Education in partnership with the Santa Fe Public Schools in 1995. What started as a small pilot program now serves over 4,450 Pre-K through 6th grade kids at 12 low-income schools.
Through the program, which takes place within the usual school day, students learn how different fruits and vegetables are grown. Local chef volunteers (like Rocky Durham, Fernando Olea, Martin Rios, and Johnny Vollertson) teach the students how to cook using fresh, affordable foods and recipes from a wide range of cultures. Students not only learn about nutrition and cooking, but also supplement their instruction in math, social studies, and science; the curriculum is tied to New Mexico's state standards.
Walters was originally brought into the schools to improve their lunch program. She started holding brainstorming sessions and brought in chefs, thinking, "If the food is beter they'll eat it." Walters quickly learned this was not so simple and that she had to build acceptance of new foods by having the students participate in the preparation of the food as well. Now Cooking With Kids meals are served in the lunchroom twice a month. The program draws some 1,200 parent volunteers, so the lessons are finding their way home.