A new program designed to encourage healthy eating and family dinners is underway at Roy B. Kelley Elementary School.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County (CCE), Eat Smart New York, and the Roy B. Kelley Parent Teacher Association (PTA) developed the Kids Cook Monday.

The free program is designed to encourage healthy eating and family dinners, and is part of the Monday Campaigns, a national public health initiative. On Oct. 24, 45 parents, grandparents and children joined together at Roy B. Kelley Elementary to prepare a healthy meal together.

Families gathered together immediately after school in the lunchroom and began customizing their own paper chef hats to wear during the event. Nutrition educator and Farm to School Coordinator Mollie McDonough started the evening off by asking the students “What does it mean to be healthy?”

The kids were on the right track, offering up answers that included eating apples and broccoli, not eating too much candy, and making sure to play. After a quick lesson on the USDA’s MyPlate and the importance of eating from all five food groups, guest chef, Nicholas Dowd, Head Chef at Village Eatery, did a demonstration of how to make the recipe for pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells. Students and parents alike learned how to roast local pie pumpkins, how to mix the filling, stuff the shells, and prepare a garden salad.

Pumpkin, ricotta cheese, and seasonings were mixed by hand into bowls by teams of kids. The pasta shells were then stuffed, put on a tray, and popped into the oven with tomato sauce. While the shells baked, students prepared a garden salad and homemade salad dressing. After all the meal prep was done, families worked together to make sure the table was cleaned and set ... it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. To wash down their meal, students prepared fruit-infused water. The family cooking night was a huge success with both kids and their parents.

Julie Calabro, assistant manager for Aramark and Lockport Central School District’s food service program, was in attendance with her 8-year-old son, and was blown away by the overwhelmingly positive response to the meal.

“This is something we should put on the lunch menu,” Calabro commented after seeing her normally picky son go for a second serving of the shells. Calabro is currently working on adding the pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells recipe to the November lunch menu in at least one of the elementary schools in Lockport.

Last spring, the Roy B. Kelley PTA was awarded a $500 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to implement The Kids Cook Monday program. The funds were used to purchase culinary toolkits for the students, which will also be available to the teachers to sign out and use for hands-on lessons in the classroom.

The Sunrise Optimist Club is also a sponsor of the program, helping to purchase food for the events.

Board Chairman Pete Stutz and President Don Urtel were both in attendance to kick-off the event. There will be three more family cooking nights throughout the year, with the next one on Nov. 21.

Eat Smart New York is a free nutrition education program. To learn more about Eat Smart New York or to find a workshop in your area visit eatsmartwny.org.

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