When the school first opened four years ago there were only 30 students, and the teachers used to cook lunch with the help of the children. However as the school started to grow, we decided to hire a cook and experiment with the idea of the older children leading the cooking. Now each elementary (age 6-9) and upper elementary (age 9-12) class of 40 has its own specially built kitchen and the system works on rotation so every child gets the chance to prepare lunch at least once a month with other teams taking charge of laying the table and washing up.
And was it a success from the word go?
To start with we were a little bit sceptical, thinking they can’t make lunch, how are we going to do this? But from week one it actually went really well and the cook was also happily surprised so she started to introduce new recipes. We had to make sure we had a good first aid kit … in the first two weeks there were a lot of cuts but now there are rarely any accidents!
Why did you opt for a vegetarian menu?
We had some children who were vegetarian and some who required different diets for religious reasons so we decided it was much easier just to leave meat out. It’s not necessary to serve meat every day to children and if they want to eat it more they can have it at home. It’s also cheaper not to serve meat and makes health inspections easier.
Do the kids like the food that they make?
It’s amazing to see that some kids who are terrible eaters at the beginning become much better after a while because they have prepared the food themselves, or their friends have made it and so they want to try it and then realise it’s actually pretty good. 95% of the kids love the food.
And the parents?
I only ever hear positive things about the project – the parents are happy that a meal has been provided and they don’t have to make packed lunches. Dutch culture is very much centred on eating sandwiches for lunch and this probably applies to 99% of school children. Many of our parents say they feel less pressure to cook a large dinner because the children are eating so well at lunchtime. The cooking project brings health and convenience so they’re all happy.
What does the future hold for the scheme?
At some stage we want the upper elementary classes to start planning the meals – find the recipes and work out the quantities they need and then order the ingredients online. We want it to turn into a comprehensive maths and reading exercise, teaching the children essential life skills. We would also like to encourage other schools to adopt the same idea because it’s very do-able!
Jetteke Choi works at Casa Bilingual Montessori School, an independent school based in Pijnacker, The Netherlands, which provides education for 280 children aged 3-12. Watch the children cooking. To find out more, visit https://en.casaschool.nl.