CPS Students Connect with Top Chefs 

Culinary experts promote healthy eating in elementary schools

April 26, 2013

Research shows that children who are exposed to healthy foods and understand the science of cooking are more likely to develop better eating habits over the course of their lifetime. Through its new health policy, which includes investments in such resources as salad bars and learning gardens, CPS has taken this information to heart. And for some students, developing a healthy lifestyle has been made that much more exciting by their introduction to professional chefs.


DeDiego Elementary

As part of its campaign to encourage healthy eating, DeDiego Elementary recently held a contest to see which class of students could be the best at eating breakfast.


"Everybody loves a contest," said DeDiego Principal Alice Vera. "But there was more to it than that. Our teachers built lessons about nutrition into the curriculum. They talked about brain food and brain power, and why you need breakfast every day in order to learn."


For the top performers of the breakfast challenge, which happened to be DeDiego's Kindergarten class, professional chef James Yoma visited their classroom for a lesson on nutrition and keeping your body healthy. Secondary winners were also selected from the primary, middle and junior high levels, and those students were treated to a gourmet lunch cooked for them by Chef Yoma.


"He was there in his full chef's outfit, cooking this healthy lunch right in front of them and serving it to them," said Principal Vera. "The kids got a big kick out of it."


This appearance by a professional chef was part of DeDiego's continued commitment to a culture of physical fitness and healthy eating, both of which are key components of Healthy CPS.


"We're Go for the Gold certified," said Principal Vera of her school. "Our students have recess every day and P.E. three times a week, and we've recently added a salad bar in our cafeteria."


DeDiego will serve as a welcoming school this fall, and Vera is very anxious to share its learning environment with new students and their families.


"We're eager to have our new students join us in our healthy eating movement, as well as all of the other resources we have to offer," she said.


These resources include a robotics program, a partnership with the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA), a learning garden, and a new playground.


"New minds and new ideas will help us move forward in a positive direction," said Vera. "We look forward to welcoming our new students so that they can help us make the great programs at DeDiego even stronger."


Audubon Elementary

Eleven-year-old Sabrina Andrade wants to go to culinary school to become a chef. Her favorite things to cook are omelets, sushi, and chicken-fried rice, and thanks to her involvement with the Common Threads program, she recently got the chance to try out her skills on television alongside celebrity chef Beverly Kim.


"It was so fun," said Sabrina of the experience. "I was pretty nervous, especially because it was live, so I froze up a little. But I had a great time and learned a lot."


Sabrina first became interested in cooking after taking a children's cooking class with Common Threads – an organization that seeks to educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical wellbeing, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking.


"We teach kids about healthy eating by giving them a hands-on experience in cooking," said Stephanie Folkens, Program Coordinator for Common Threads. "The kids feel empowered after participating in our classes, and they bring new ideas about healthy eating home to their families."


Her deep commitment to the program is what made Common Threads tap Audubon Elementary student Sabrina Andrade for the opportunity to cook on the WGN Morning News with celebrity chef Beverly Kim, who appeared on Season 9 of the popular television series "Top Chef". Sabrina's friends and teachers at Audubon Elementary were very excited to see her get this opportunity, and they eagerly tuned in to her cooking debut on television.


"She's a great student," said Audubon Assistant Principal Amy Durkelski. "She enjoys her learning and her friends, and we're all impressed with her determination to go to culinary school and become a chef."


To see a video clip of Sabrina on WGN Morning News, click here.