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Empowering Children and Youth to Make Healthy Food Choices

Cooking with Kids (CWK) motivates and empowers children and youth to make healthy food choices through hands-on learning with fresh, affordable foods from diverse cultural traditions. CWK’s bilingual curriculum provides interdisciplinary education in math, science, social studies, and language arts, and links classroom learning with school meals.

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A Story from the Field

At the end of a CWK cooking class where students prepared Vegetable Paella with Green Salad, a kindergarten student ate all of her salad said, “This is the first time I tried salad without ranch!”

Program Activities

  • 5,002 pre-K-7th grade students in 236 classrooms in 13 Santa Fe Public Schools: Agua Fria, Amy Biehl, Aspen, Cesar Chavez, Chaparral, Gonzales, Kearny, Nava, Salazar, Sweeney, Tesuque and Turquoise Trail students participated in ten cooking and tasting classes (15 hours)
  • Piñon students participated in five one-hour fruit and vegetable tastings, taught by classroom teachers (5 hours)
  • Parent Volunteers: 1,444 parents and grandparents (1,098 female, 346 male) volunteered 3,891 hours in cooking classes
  • School-Day Classes: 1,950 total food and nutrition education classes
  • 1,148 cooking classes taught by CWK food educators & classroom teacher
    • Introductory class with Melon Tasting
    • Stovetop Pizza with Green Salad
    • Llapingachos with Red Chile
    • Asian Noodles with Bok Choy
    • Indian Lentils with Carrot Rice Pilaf and Chapatis
    • Vegetable Paella with Green Salad
  • 686 fruit and vegetable tastings taught by classroom teachers: Apples, Citrus, and Salad Tasting. In addition, Piñon students tasted 4 varieties of locally grown carrots.
  • 87 Art and Cooking elective for Gonzales Middle School students
  • 29 Life Skills classes at Gonzales
  • Distributed CWK re-useable grocery bags to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students
  • School/Community Programming included family nights at Agua Fria, Salazar, Sweeney, and Turquoise Trail and Harvest Festivals in 3 schools
  • CWK school lunches were served several times a month in all 19 school cafeterias
  • Summer Programs at Nava and Cesar Chavez, Zona Del Sol 6-week summer program, in collaboration with Earth Care and FACT, and Santa Fe Children’s Museum week-long summer program

Awards & Honors

  • IACP 2013 Culinary Youth Advocate of the Year Award presented at the International Association of Culinary Professionals Annual Conference
  • CWK Executive Director Lynn Walters, TED Talk: TEDxAcequia Madre, “Empowering Children to Make Healthy Food Choices,” November 3, 2012

Community Engagement

  • CWK Super Chefs: local chefs who donate their time and talent in cooking classes, inspiring students with their skills, sharing their stories, and acting as professional role models. Nine chefs volunteered with CWK.
  • Farmers in the Schools connects New Mexico farmers with elementary school students. Farmers enrich cooking classes by sharing their expertise and passion for growing and eating a variety of fresh, healthy foods. Three farmers participated in cooking classes.
  • Supported garden at Salazar Community School


  • Santa Fe Public Schools Student Nutrition Program
  • NM Communities in Schools
  • Earth Care
  • Americorps Youth Food Cadre
  • Citizen Schools
  • Santa Fe Food Policy Council


  • NM Style cooking segments on KASA Channel featuring CWK staff, Super Chefs and children
  • “10 Cool Ways to Teach Kids about Food,” TakePart Website, January 17, 2013
  • “Fighting Obesity: Making Meals Count,” Santa Fe New Mexican series, July 15-17, 2012
  • “Multiple Weapons Work in Obesity Fight,” Santa Fe New Mexican editorial, July 18, 2012
  • CWK recipes, localflavor magazine, November 2012
  • Chef’s letter to the editor in support of CWK, localflavor magazine, February 2013

Research and Evaluation

  • USDA Research Results from Colorado State University: Cooking with Kids: Integrating Classroom, Cafeteria, and Family Experiences to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Preference and Intake investigated students’ attitudes and behaviors towards eating fruits and vegetables, and examined family food preparation and eating practices. Results included:
  • Fruit and vegetable preferences improved significantly more among students receiving CWK lessons compared to students in schools without CWK.
  • Attitudes towards cooking improved the most in boys with little prior cooking experience after they received CWK cooking lessons.
  • Cooking self-efficacy increased the most in students (again, mainly boys) who initially reported little cooking experience prior to the CWK lessons.
  • 2012-2013 Program Evaluation

Student Voices

Today was an awesome day because we got to cook!

I liked that we made it instead of buying it. It’s one of the most fun things that I have done in this school.

We are the best cooks!

My favorite part is cooking all together.

It is important to eat healthy so that you can be smart.

It’s the first time I ate vegetables that I like.

I didn’t think I would like the salad but the salad was really good.

I am going to tell my mom to make Llapingachos with me.

I can’t believe there are 700 kinds of potatoes!

CWK Teacher Survey Results (49% response rate)

  • 95.5 % teachers want to participate in CWK next year
  • 73.8 % of teachers use CWK to meet Wellness Standards

Teacher Comments

What I like best about CWK is the hands-on learning. Everyone is engaged, including parents. CWK is THE most integrated form of experiential learning in our school today.

I like seeing parents interact with their children in a fun and structured environment that has a goal and outcome.

I love the opportunity to work with a small group and reinforce math and cooperative learning and oral language. I also love that parents enjoy the program and choose to be involved which gets them to school!

It offers students the opportunity to use crops from our garden. It supports student well-being and nutrition, and helps build community.

It introduces students to healthy foods that they might have never eaten.

The experiences that the students have are able to transfer to their home. The parents receive the recipe and it gives the parents an opportunity to talk about something that happened during the day at school. I send pictures to families who often stick to a very limited diet. The students learn vocabulary and life skills, both essential to their learning, curriculum and often IEP goals.

My students love measuring the ingredients and working together.

Many students share that their families use the recipes at home. Parents often ask me about the program because their children go home excited to share their experiences.

CWK reinforces that healthy food can be simple and delicious.

The achievement gap is as much an experience gap as academic, and exposing students to the world the way CWK does helps close the experience gap. It also supports literacy (reading, making connections), math (measurement and fractions), social studies (map skills, other cultures), and science (understanding and following procedures, replicability).

CWK implements CCSS as the students convert and prepare measurements individually as well as work with data while creating charts and graphs. In SS it exposes the students to multiple countries and locations, multiple cultures and traditions from around the world that would not otherwise be possible. In ELA, CWK expands the students’ current vocabulary, reading for instruction, written expression, and public presentation skills.

We count, calculate, measure, learn about other cultures in a fun way, learn about plants, spices, and add new vocabulary, in a bilingual way, with our students. I was able to incorporate the sprouts and the Indian food with our units about India and plants.

The reading material is used to address reading skills in non-fiction text, including vocabulary, and comprehension. Science, specifically nutrition, is also addressed with the main ingredients of each dish. The history of the food as well as local connections help students learn about their home and the world beyond.

Cooking with Kids is a value to the educational process. Hands on activities are important to bring understanding. It also serves as one of the best ways to get parents to volunteer in my class.

Parent Questionnaire (1,401 respondents – 28% response: 63% English/37% Spanish)

  • 75% reported that they know about CWK because their child told them
  • 39% reported volunteering in CWK classes
  • 37% reported that they prepare CWK recipes at home

Parent Comments

I am a single mom with 3 kids and 3 jobs, so any little time I spend with Leslie is very important to me. Leslie and I love and enjoy cooking together. We are able to follow the easy and quick recipes. Leslie always talks about Cooking with Kids and she tells me how much she enjoys it. She has learned a lot of the importance of eating healthy.

The foods that we use now are more nutritious and healthy. Now we know they there are different ways to cook, for example: a pizza using vegetables in place of meats.

My kids actively help prepare meals. Cooking allows my kids to learn their measurements, numbers, colors and the food they are preparing. We spend quality time preparing meals and sitting together at the table eating as a family.

My daughter tells me that she already knows how to cut vegetables and she likes to cook and make salads by herself.

I have been so impressed with this program. While we try to eat well at home, we stick with a standard menu and rarely try new recipes. My kids have, through CWK, been exposed to new foods and have most often reported that they enjoyed the meals and ask to prepare the recipes at home. I really like how new cultures are explored through the program as well. It has been a pleasure to volunteer in a few of the classes. The children are engaged and excited to prepare the meals and then to sit down together to eat their creations! Thanks for this fantastic program!!

I have seen first-hand how much more willing my daughter is to try something (even with vegetables!) when she has been part of the cooking process.

I love being able to volunteer—Canyon loves me being there. We cook a lot together at home. I love that what we learn in CWK reinforces what we do at home. I like bringing in foods and table customs from other countries. He discovered he likes salad after all!

Major Funders

  • USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) through the New Mexico Human Services Department
  • Buckaroo Ball Foundation Fund through the New Mexico Community Foundation
  • City of Santa Fe Children & Youth Commission
  • Santa Fe Community Foundation
  • Santa Fe Public Schools
  • Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta Foundation
  • Trisons Foundation
  • Classroom Sponsors
  • Los Alamos National Bank
  • 100 Women Who Care in Santa Fe
  • Dollars4Schools
  • In-kind Support
  • Santa Fe Public Schools
  • Whole Foods Market
  • La Montanita Coop
  • Smith’s Neighbor to Neighbor Fund
  • localflavor Magazine
  • Eun Hong, CPA
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