Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy (SNHMA) has become a pioneer in the school lunch revolution with its “Edible Classroom” program. Under the direction of Ellen Dyjak, a classically trained chef and mother of two, SNHMA students aged 3 to 9 prepare, cook and serve their own school lunches, using fresh, local ingredients.
“The kitchen-as-classroom concept immerses the students in the entire life cycle of food — from planting and harvesting, to prepping, cooking and eating. Our goal is to give students a life-long appreciation for a wide variety of healthy, nutritious food and the skills they need to prepare and enjoy it,” comments Debra Hogan, SNHMA’s Founder and Director.
Every week, the students rotate through one of several roles: maître d’, sous chef, and room manager. The entire school sits down to the meal, which is served by the children, family style at properly set tables, with tablecloths, napkins, glassware, and silverware.
“Sitting together at a nicely laid out table, sharing a meal that they helped prepare helps foster children’s respect for food, encourages table manners, and creates a wonderful sense of community. The children are engaged, curious, adventurous and there is a palpable sense of excitement around trying new foods,” says Debra Hogan.
Some of the dishes recently concocted by Miss Ellen and the children have included whole wheat quesadillas with home made salsa, cashew nut pesto, beet greens salad, roasted broccoli, lemon thyme chicken, home made pita bread, soba noodle salad with sesame dressing, shrimp skewers, and roasted edamame, to name a few.
“Since starting the program at the beginning of the school year, every one of our students has tried something new. The children experiment together, and encourage each other to try new foods. It’s amazing to listen to them discuss smells, colors, tastes and textures and describe their thoughts as they discuss the saltiness of feta cheese, the briny taste of an olive, or the juicy sweetness of a ripe pear,” comment Ellen Dyjak, SNHMA’s ‘Edible Classroom’ teacher.
“Our ‘Edible Classroom’ initiative is based on fundamental Montessori values: we create an environment which fosters children’s natural curiosity, where hands-on learning is central to the curriculum in all programs, where independence is nurtured so that children become purposeful, motivated, and confident in their own abilities, as opposed to assisted, passive learners,” adds Hogan.
A Pediatric Dietician’s point of view on SNHMA’s program
Frances Van Geyte, a board-certified pediatric dietitian with over 20 years’ experience in the field of nutrition comments on the program:
“Having been in the field of pediatric nutrition for over 20 years, every so often a great nutrition book or idea grabs hold of my attention. The Edible Classroom program at SNHMA is one of those types of programs. It opens up a world of experiences for children and takes down the multiple barriers for children’s access to wholesome, nutritious and tasty foods. This program is ground-breaking, pairing of culinary creativity with locally and organically grown food; although its immediate benefit is to the children it serves, it also extends to the community at large. By choosing locally and organically grown foods, it supports the health of our children and our environment. The program serves as a role model to other schools looking to establish healthy eating habits in our youngest citizens. One of the arguments against providing this level of nutritious tasty foods to children is affordability. I believe we cannot afford not to make that investment, when you consider the dire consequences of poor eating habits. Eating habits are established early on and have longstanding consequences on our children’s health. We can no longer afford to be a passive wall between children and their daily access to whole, unprocessed foods. SNHMA is taking its role as an educator seriously by feeding both our children’s minds and their bodies, as one does not work well without the other.”
SNHMA kids use new culinary skills to support local food bank
To put their culinary skills into practice, SNHMA students will be baking quick breads and making a batch “Community Soup” available for sale at the school’s upcoming “Stories for a Cause” book sale event taking place at SNHMA on Saturday November 5th. Now in its 3rd year, “Stories for a Cause” will feature nationally acclaimed storyteller, Angela Klingler, known for her animated retellings of traditional world folktales, fables, myths and legends. All profits from the sale of books and children-prepared foods will go the support the efforts of the Upper Room family resource center and food bank in Derry.
Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy offers an academically focused education to children through an integrated curriculum. Concentration is given to educating the “whole child” (all facets of the child’s being, including: intellectual, physical, emotional, social and creative aspects) with a strong emphasis of hands-on and experiential learning where children develop their passion in technology, science, visual and performing arts, foreign language and physical education. Complementing a strong academic core, the school offers an enrichment program that includes elementary Latin, creative arts (visual and performing), daily physical education, technology and Spanish. For further information, click here.
Photos in this story by Tanya Swann.