Food, Kids, Nutrition and Culture..What Fun! What Great Learning Adventures!

Bonnie Bracey Sutton614636_10151200814371327_683517969_o

Sometimes I like to say this is about eating our way through Geography and History..children can be motivated by what they are interested in. Food is usually an interest.


Most people know me because of my interest in science, math , technology and engineering. But lots of people love me for my cooking.  My mother was a great cook. She said to me,if you can read you can cook. But she was from the country and cooked things in season and in a particular routine. She was excellent. She probably regretted that advice when I made bread for the first time. It was nine pans of rolls, but she was patient. I loved cooking in the kitchen with her. Virginia foods, soul foods and she liked to make French pastries ,too.

Recently , I have learned to eat more vegetables and salads. My husband brings a world of eating experience to my table. And he buys me cookbooks.

Sinking your teeth into the accidental science of cooking is fun!

I liked a wider range of foods and was always experimenting with food at home.I love how the Exploratorium calls it ” The Accidental Science of Cooking“.

On trips around the world I collected cookbooks and spices, but not for school.

I realized that one thing we all have in common was the daily task of eating.

How I Got Started

Once in the classroom during the Cherry Blossom Festival,a teacher came from the Smithsonian. She was Japanese, cute, and was teaching and cooking all at the same time. I was jealous. She had everyone’s rapt attention and even kids who were finicky about foods lined up to eat. That taught me a lesson. She was in cultural dress , talking and rocking her cooking on a hotplate. She was awesome.

My first help with cooking in the classroom was the 4H. They had some kind of recipes that were very good and inexpensive.  My second help, was having a garden in the school that I taught in, which at the time was Long Branch Elementary. in Arllington, Va.

I think I said to a parent , I would like to have a garden.  I was thinking about flowers , but there were strawberries growing in the back of the school near the park. So , all of a sudden parents and I were planning an early spring garden. Who knew it would be such fun? OK, it was also work, but the work was rewarding.

I don’t remember all of the parents, but Mr. Haithcock turned over the soil for us with a tractor , and Nathan Lyon’s family helped me choose plants.Nathan Lyon is now a chef of international status. The Lyon family helped us to get started.

Another mother came in to teach me to harden plants before we set them out. Harden? Who knew? I came from a family in Virginia who had a truck farm, but I was of the next generation. I just visited there in the summer. I learned as much as the students did. I learned to eat a lot of vegetable raw.

Did I mention Kolrabi…. I had no idea what it was. We had the soil tested by the 4H and we had written a grant so we had tools, gloves, shovels, sticks, seeds, and lots of garden resources.

I think the hardest thing was to get the kids and the tools down to the field without injury. I was always worrying about some one getting hit with a shovel, but it never happened. We had buckets too. The hose only reached so far. It was amazing how the children concentrated on the tasks.

Our school was on the edge of  a lovely park . A few of us could sit under the trees when others were digging in the dirt. Immigrant families interested in our work would also come and help weed and water. In the classroom we were raising chickens, hatching butterflies and frogs and doing Bugscope.

We should add Chickscope to the list, but we never ate our chickens. We raised them for the 4H and they would  come and collect our baby chickens.

As I matured as a teacher I learned to incorporate the geography of foods into my work. It started with the geography of a chocolate bar,

The art teacher helped us with the artistic part of it by letting us do still life painting. We visited the National Gallery of Art and saw the paintings of many artists  and we purchased a few copies of the paintings. At the link below you can take a look at some of the still life paintings in the collection and these days they are also available for the IPad.

The history of food, the travels of specific foods to the US reached a wonderful visual mapping from the ” Seeds of Change” which promoted the exchange of foods from around the world at the Smithsonian. It was  the exchange of plants and seeds between the Old and New Worlds following Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492. Themes included the introduction of horses, sugar, and disease to the New World and the introduction of potatoes and corn to the Old World.

No child in the room will forget the sculpture that showed when tomato met spaghetti. You can see that this can be the beginning of  a life long study.

Where in the world?

Here is a way to get started.

Food plays an important role in our culture and relationships. We had a map to study here.

  • This is the result from our learning about herbs. Mr. DeBaggio started a business. We always got free plants at the beginning of spring for our class.

    This is the result from our learning about herbs. Mr. DeBaggio started a business. We always got free plants at the beginning of spring for our class.

    Tom De Baggio would come into the class and start us growing seeds from herbs. The business is still going strong. From the catalog, you can learn a lot.

Sometimes we inserted food into the curriculum in interesting ways.

Here is art to eat


When we did Shakespeare , we ate using authentic recipes. We learned about sorrel and parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. The stories were fascinating. We did also make dragons with almond toenails. Too cute to eat, right away. Sorry, no picture. There be dragons, but we ate them.