By Bryant Sanders, Development Associate

March is National Nutrition Month, a time to promote nutrition education and bring attention to the importance of making informed food choices. In celebration, we interviewed Maggie Michaels, founder of The Curriculum of Cuisine, in Portland, Ore. to discuss her innovate approach for integrating nutrition education into high school classrooms.

What is The Curriculum of Cuisine?
The Curriculum of Cuisine is a program that works at crossroads of culinary education, standards driven academic rigor, career development and food justice. Our mission is to support rigorous academic learning while delivering essential culinary skills to enhance student success and foster a lifetime of wellness. We provide basic culinary education to students without the expense of a school needing to add an elective class or create a specialized classroom. By providing culinary supplies and a chef, The Curriculum of Cuisine turns classroom spaces into basic kitchens for hands-on learning.

Links between health and academic achievement are unquestionable, so this program addresses the critical community needs of improving both youth wellness and academic achievement by placing culinary skills on par with academic rigor during the school day.

Why is it important that students receive nutrition education in the classroom?
Basic cooking techniques are fundamental to both wellness and food justice, so The Curriculum of Cuisine ensures more youth acquire these skills by teaching them within the context of the academic classes that are required for graduation. In addition to engaging learners and reinforcing academic standards, the culinary skills taught through our program become cornerstones for students to achieve a lifetime of healthy eating habits and personal wellness.

What does the curriculum look like in practice?
There is no “canned” curriculum, so a certified teacher and culinary professional have the opportunity to craft a series of lessons to reflect the unique learning styles, cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic situations of their students.

For example, this spring we’re partnering with a Natural Sciences teacher at Alliance High School-Meek in Portland, Ore. We’re bringing a chef into two of the teacher’s classes for six visits each. Along with learning essential culinary skills, students will be focused on learning about food security issues in low incomes neighborhoods; using permaculture design principles to grow food with maximum benefits to ecosystems and minimal negative impacts to the planet; and exploring career pathways to becoming chefs.

What makes this approach to nutrition education unique?
Our program model – bringing chefs into the classes students are already need to graduate – means we can meet students, teachers, and schools right where they are. This spring we’re working with four different high schools, and it's almost as if there are four different programs being planned. All of them will deliver hands on learning for students, but each is a  unique reflection of  the chef-teacher partnership, the cultural capital of students, and the school. Every initiative of The Curriculum of Cuisine has its own flavor, and that is very cool!

Learn more about The Curriculum of Cuisine through their website, Facebook page and blog. To explore more ideas for integrating nutrition education into classroom curriculum, visit our resource library.