Shady Oak Best Practices:
Every month we publish two articles on “Shady Oak Best Practices,” our favorite approaches to education and why they work. If friends ask why you send your kids to Shady Oak instead of a “regular” school, refer them to this series—and the science backing us up—for starters.
Every other month or so, Shady Oak holds a “Friday Feast”: a group comprising students from multiple grades prepares a meal for the entire school, taking full responsibility for menu planning, cooking, serving, and cleanup. Besides providing extra fun time and helping students learn the basic life skills of cooking and nutrition, these events are full of opportunities to practice dining etiquette and socialization. Plus, cooking provides built-in lessons in math (measuring and portioning), language (reading recipes), health (planning nutritious and balanced menus), and social studies (exploring recipes from a variety of time periods and cultures).
If you want to start a “feast” program at your own school, following these guidelines will help things run smoothly:
- Be aware that some large-scale cooking events require permission from official health departments. Check local laws first.
- Questions may surface over whether cooks and servers should be chosen on an all-volunteer basis. While it’s not a good idea to “conscript” kids at random (if they aren’t particularly interested, feeling forced can only leave them resenting the “extra work”), you do want a mix of ages, backgrounds, and genders—and if this will be a recurring event, you don’t want the same group in the kitchen every time. Before calling for volunteers, warm the students up by having individual teachers talk up the joys of cooking in their classrooms—and give gentle encouragement to promising participants.
- Ask kids to share their families’ favorite recipes, then hold an all-school vote to pick the “feast” salad, main course, sides, and dessert.
- Once the cooking-and-serving “staff” is chosen, be careful a select few don’t get all the “fun” tasks while the others are stuck with cleanup. See that everyone has a chance to participate in some aspect of food preparation, and that everyone stays involved from beginning to end.
- In the weeks leading up to the feast, have each classroom incorporate basic instruction on table manners into its lessons—there will always be kids who know little beyond eating straight out of the refrigerator. Don’t, however, get overly strict about one exact way to handle every detail. Many students may come from households where things are done differently from classic American table manners, yet can hardly be called offensive to other diners. Encourage discussion, and emphasize respect for all.
- Decide in advance when and where the “kitchen staff” will eat. If at all possible, do things in classic family-dining/dinner party fashion—let the “staff” cook beforehand, save the cleanup for afterwards, and enjoy the main meal and conversation alongside everyone else.
Science Backs Us Up! Further Resources on the Topic
At Shady Oak, we emphasize “feasts” because it teaches responsibility and brings the school together in an atmosphere of camaraderie.