But that was hardly the case at Egremont Elementary School on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-May, where guest chef Tom Tenuta of SoMa Catering in Stockbridge, and registered dietician Karen Koziara of Berkshire Health Systems, taught a dozen or so grade schoolers about the benefits of cooking with whole grains and how to make a yummy batch of whole wheat banana pancakes.
Koziara kicked things off with a lesson in the nutritional value of grains like quinoa and bulgur, circulating a “touch and feel” poster board with examples of grains. Unlike their processed cousins, whole grains are naturally more nutritious and filling. That’s because they contain all three essential parts of the grain: the bran, the germ and the endosperm, whereas processed grains contain only the endosperm.
After the lesson, Koziara taught the kids how to make whole wheat banana pancakes. It was — literally — a hands-on experience. First graders got into the mix by pouring whole wheat flour into bowls, first mashing bananas and then mashing mixed berries by hand – with gloves on, of course. The bananas lent the pancakes their sweetness – without any added sugar, Koziara explained.
The mashed berries served as an optional topping, in place of syrup.
Next, the third and fourth graders got their chance to work the griddles and master the fine art of when to flip the flap jack (hint: look for tiny bubbles or when the pancakes are dry around the edges). Tenuta also taught students to abide by kitchen safety guidelines, like maintaining a safe distance from the griddle.
As a reward for all their efforts, the kids all got to have pancakes, many of them dipping them in the fruit mixture. They were a hit, with most asking for seconds. Each took home a copy of the recipe to share with their families.
“There’s been a terrific turnout for the program and I can see kids are making new healthy choices based on what they’ve learned,” said Theresa “Pam” Burton who is cook manager at Egremont. She is learning the program from Berkshire Health Systems’ Koziara, and also is involved with after-school sessions of the program at Conte Community School.
One of Burton’s goals, she said, is to encourage kids to start closely reading details of the lunch menus that go home each month, so they can learn about the nutritional content of each offering. The program, “Fun and Food After School,” is a Harvard research-based program designed to develop healthy habits outside of school time. Units combine nutrition education and creative learning activities that include cooking nutritious recipes and snacks. Students learn about healthy eating, cooking techniques and kitchen safety, while gaining new ideas for meals and snacks that are healthy for the whole family.
The program’s implementation was part of a federal grant awarded to Pittsfield Public Schools, working in conjunction with “Operation Better Start” at Berkshire Health Systems.
Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes
A more nutritious – but just as delicious – morning treat your kids will love. Each recipe yields 12 pancakes.
• 1 cup whole-wheat flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
• 2 eggs, slightly beaten
• 1 cup low fat milk
• 2 medium, very ripe bananas
• Cooking spray or butter to coat the griddle pan
• Fresh fruit like blueberries, strawberries or raspberries in place of syrup
In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mash bananas. Mix
in the milk and beaten eggs. Pour banana milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix well. If the
mixture appears runny, add in a little more flour; if too thick, add a little milk.
Next, coat a large frying pan or griddle with cooking spray. Heat pan over medium heat for two
minutes. Spoon ¼ cup of batter onto the heated pan for each pancake and cook until the tops are
bubbly. Flip and cook for 2-3 minutes. Place cooked pancakes on a plate and top with fruit.