Class teaches young cooks the importance of cutting back on food waste

Class teaches young cooks the importance of cutting back on food waste

The last thing students want from a class is a zero. Unless that class is specifically designed to get them to zero. A group of 25 fourth-graders from The Mastery School, a charter school in Camden, recently took a Zero Food Waste challenge inside the test kitchens of Campbell Soup Company, at the company’s corporate headquarters.

Class teaches young cooks the importance of cutting back on food waste


The last thing students want from a class is a zero.

Unless that class is specifically designed to get them to zero.

A group of 25 fourth-graders from The Mastery School, a charter school in Camden, recently took a Zero Food Waste challenge inside the test kitchens of Campbell Soup Company, at the company’s corporate headquarters.

Once they arrived at the kitchens, they formed culinary teams with names such as the Taste It Team, Healthy Consumers and Queen Cookers. Wearing red aprons and psyched to get busy, students took on the challenge as part of a six-week “Cooking Matters’’ program.

The class is administered by the Food Bank of South Jersey, in cooperation with Campbell’s.

The Zero Food Waste class, offered to mark Earth Week, introduced the young chefs to six varieties of hummus: Spinach Hummus; Roasted Red Pepper Hummus; Simple Hummus; Black Bean Salsa Hummus; Avocado Cilantro Hummus and a Dessert Hummus. It also enouraged them to get creative and try to use every piece of food available.

Campbell’s staff kicked off the event by highlighting the problem of food waste. An estimated 40 percent of the food created for human consumption is wasted in the United States. This has a negative impact on the environment, and dumps into landfills nutritional ingredients that could help fight hunger, they stressed.

“The big word today is sustainability,’’ Melissa Donnelly, manager of Sustainability Integration and Metrics for the Campbell Soup Company, told the young chefs gathered at a communal table in the middle of the room. “Sustaining is about what we are using and keeping things going and using things over and over … Not letting anything go to waste.

“We want you to be really creative about it and not waste any of the parts of any of the food you are using,’’ she explained. “For instance, the carrot peels are just as nutritious as the other parts you usually eat of the carrot … Think about how you can use them in your recipe, really think about new and innovative ways to use the food that would otherwise go to waste.’’

In previous Cooking Matters classes, the students had learned the importance of trying to “eat a rainbow,’’ improving nutrition by incorporating as many of the beautiful colors of nature as they can each day.

Orange ingredients are good for your eyes, recalled one student. And red foods — peppers, tomatoes — are good for your heart, said another, while other vegetables support brain and digestive health.

As the students split into groups, each with a Campbell Soup employee as a mentor, Jane Freiman, director of the Campbell’s Consumer Test Kitchen, directed them to use as much of each ingredient as possible.

“I am challenging you all as your teams strive for zero food waste,’’ she said. “Now, how are we going to measure this? … When you bring back your finished dishes, you are also going to bring back your bowl of your food waste.’’

As they set to work, many young chefs said they had never tried hummus before, so tasting what they made would be an adventure.

Under the watchful eye of their coaches, the students scooped chickpeas from cans, diced fresh veggies and fruits, squeezed lemons and found unusual ways to keep that pile in the bowl to a minimum.

The results? Six tasty types of hummus, each with a different spin on the No Food Waste theme. One hummus was served inside scooped-out lemon rinds. Another featured a “tree’’ in its center, the stalk of the broccoli adding a touch of spring to the platter. Still others got creative with cilantro or sliced apples as garnish. Seeds from the veggies and fruit, they were reminded, could be gathered for future planting.

Student Sharen Medina said she enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to make the plate more inspiring. “It’s good and it’s fun,’’ she said of the class. “I helped by putting in the oil and the salt and cutting the cilantro.

“I didn’t come because of my friends are here,’’ she explained, adding that she enjoys seeing cooking shows on TV.  “I want to learn to cook and my mom wants to cook with me.”

Asked if she would make the dish at home, Sharen said she may not have all of the ingredients, but “maybe when I grow up.’’

Ky’are Damon loves to cook and says many people in his life has inspired him in the kitchen. “I used to cook with a lot of people like my mom and my grandmom, so that helped me. And I used to cook breakfast for my family in the mornings,’’ he said. “I like trying new foods.

“We made the avocado hummus, and it worked out pretty good. I was trying my best not to waste any food,’’ he said. “It’s a fun challenge.’’

Ky’are said the best thing he’s learned in Cooking Matters so far is how to make stir-fry with chicken, tofu and peppers.

Amarys Lopez Vera also helped make the avocado cilantro hummus. She said it was really good, although in the kitchen she most enjoys making dessert. “I like to make cupcakes and brownies for my cousins. We get to try new things every time.’’

The students had time at the end of class to share their experiences, emphasizing what they’d learned about not wasting food. They got to taste all six types of hummus, and went home with a recipe booklet so they might be able to replicate the lessons in their own kitchens.

After inspecting the young chefs’ creations, Freiman praised their efforts to keep scraps in the bowl to a minimum.

Afterward, she stressed the many components of this program that benefits kids once they leave the test kitchens.

“It gets started that interest in food, and teaches them not to be afraid and to do simple things. We get started with some experimentation and they work together as a team. It pulls in their math skills. And it’s important to experiment, and they are such creative children and we help them to unlock that.’’

It is gratifying, she said, to hear that some kids were cooking at home after the first class, sharing what they learned with their families.

Kim Fortunato is director of community affairs for Campbell Soup, as well as the president of the Campbell Soup Foundation.

Cooking Matters, she explained, was created by a program called Share our Strength in Washington, D.C., which is administered locally by the Food Bank of South Jersey. It is offered at Campbell Soup in partnership with the Food Bank as part of Campbell’s Healthy Communities’ 10-year initiative. (The company offers similar programs near other facilities in Norwalk, Conn.; and Ferndale, Mich.).

Donnelly’s focus at Campbell Soup is on food waste. Like the state of New Jersey itself, the company has made a commitment to reduce its food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

“We’ve also reported our food waste for the first time this year,’’ Donnelly said.  “We’ve been transparent. It is about 400 thousand metric tons, and the majority of that actually goes to feed animals, compost … A portion still goes to landfills, but we are looking for ways we can be more efficient in our production processes and innovative ways that we can create new products from that waste.’’

She said her hope for the Zero Food Waste session was that kids would pay attention to what’s in their pantries and refrigerators back home, and be more mindful about not wasting it.