Apples to Zucchini Cooking School Partners with Schools, Nonprofits to Get Kids Cooking | Good for Santa Barbara | Wender Mind Kids

 Apples to Zucchini Cooking School Partners with Schools, Nonprofits to Get Kids Cooking |  Good for Santa Barbara

[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first article.]

Kids on the Central Coast are braising, cooking and steaming thanks to the Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Cooking School, which teaches local students how to make nutritious meals using real food.

What began as an after-school enrichment program at the Brandon School in the Goleta Union School District has grown into a full-fledged culinary school, reaching more than 1,200 people each year.

Since its inception six years ago, Apples to Zucchini has now worked with several local schools and nearly a dozen non-profit organizations.

Julia Cushing, a licensed clinical social worker, leads the A to Z Cooking partnership programs, develops curriculum and teaches classes at Noah’s Anchorage, Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, SAFE House, Casa Serena, Gaucho Underground Scholars and the Santa Barbara School of Squash , among other. She emphasizes careful handling of cooking and eating.

“Our curriculum includes discussions about how we can be mindful when we prepare our food and mindful when we eat our food,” she told Noozhawk. “We emphasize the importance of being aware of our emotions, our stress levels, and paying attention to how the foods we consume are affecting our bodies.”

Cushing said mealtime is also an opportunity to stop, take deep breaths, and really notice how food smells and tastes.

Kristina Webster, director of learning, development and culture at Girls Inc., shared that her students have learned how food affects their energy levels. She said they are now paying more attention to how their bodies are responding to the foods they consume.

Girls Inc. is one of the largest A to Z partnerships, serving its elementary and youth programs at three locations: Girls Inc.’s Goleta Valley Center and the Goleta Valley and Santa Barbara Junior High Schools.

Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Cooking School
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Olivia Diaz, afterschool coordinator at Girls Inc. in the Santa Barbara area, says girls were initially reluctant to work together but quickly learned the importance of working together. (Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Photo of Cooking School)

“The staff at Girls Inc. excel at youth development and a wide range of offerings for girls, but we may not have a broader background in all areas that our youth wish to explore,” Webster said. “Relying on program partners like A to Z has been a tremendous benefit for the girls in our programs.

“Program partners like A to Z are able to offer comprehensive training and specific skills around their area of ​​expertise.”

Janely Murillo, host of the teen program at Girls Inc., noted that girls are learning how to use kitchen appliances properly and, more importantly, they are practicing working as a team.

“Having the girls work together on a recipe from start to finish is unifying and community building,” said Olivia Diaz, aftercare coordinator. “When we started our A to Z partnership, the girls were reluctant to work together, but now they understand the importance of working together.

“Starting our week with an activity that allows the girls to work together sets a rhythm for the rest of the week.”

Not only do the girls work together as a team, they also eat together as a community.

“Teenagers meet during meal times, share their opinions and laugh endlessly,” observed Suzette Gonzalez, another Teen Program host. “Many of our teens have blossomed during this program and I can’t wait to see how else it will impact their career plans, their future lives and more.”

Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Cooking School
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“When kids can be part of a community experience around food, it opens their taste buds, makes them more excited about food, and encourages them to try foods they might not otherwise eat,” said Beth Skidmore, Chair of Rooted Santa Barbara County. (Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Photo of Cooking School)

Beth Skidmore’s children have attended summer camps from A to Z.

“When children can be part of a community experience around food, it opens their taste buds, sparks their enthusiasm for food, and encourages them to try foods they might not otherwise eat,” she said.

Skidmore also directs Rooted Santa Barbara County, a nonprofit focused on optimizing community health through wholesome, plant-based nutrition, education and support. Rooted has teamed up with A to Z and collaborated on ideas to share plant-based cooking and eating with the community.

The A to Z Plant Forward curriculum has been incredibly well received. Ahmed Merza, senior librarian at the Santa Barbara Public Library, noted that parents have been particularly receptive to the program, as many want to teach their children how to incorporate healthier habits into their diets, but they don’t always have the tools or knowledge .

“We value our A to Z partnership,” he said. Eastside Library has partnered with A to Z Cooking for more than a year, offering summer camps even during the COVID-19 shutdown.

At the height of the pandemic, A to Z Cooking offered easy, nutritious recipes via Zoom to supplement the library’s virtual preschool story time. The popularity of this program led to summer camps with cooking stations outside of the library or in Ortega Park.

“The parents have been so grateful as many cannot afford the summer camp and being able to give this experience to their children has been incredibly valuable,” added Merza.

Thanks to the grant, there is no fee for students to participate through the library and other select programs, and no one is ever turned away, even if it meant volunteers had to run A-Z to Trader Joe’s for more ingredients.

Camps are offered throughout the summer on the Garden Street campus from A to Z for students in Kindergarten through third grade and grades four through six.

While A to Z is plant-centric, the organization also prepares meals using locally sourced, sustainable meats and offers programs across many palettes, including ‘Sabor: Flavors of Spain and Latin America’, ‘Baking: Sweet and Savory Treats from the Oven’. ‘, ‘Mangia: Regional Dishes of Italy’ and ‘Spice Route: Flavors of Asia’.

While learning to cook is important, understanding where food comes from is just as important. There is a garden on site and students often take field trips to the farmers and fish markets to learn first hand from the growers.

“My son learned directly from a fishmonger,” said Kathy Bazarganan, whose son attended summer camp and the after-school program at Adams School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

“Imagine dropping him off at the beach and picking him up a few hours later and he’s learned how to make ceviche,” she marveled.

Not bad for a 10 year old.

Funding for a semester of weekly classes or a school year of monthly classes is only $2,400, and A to Z welcomes private donations of any amount. All contributions go directly to supportive programs for low-income and at-risk youth.

Click here for more information about the Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) cooking school. Click here to make an online donation.

– Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk author. She can be reached at [email protected].

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