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Fountain Avenue Kitchen: Middle school students onboard with pizza boats

01/15/2017 LancasterOnline By Ann Fulton

If you were to teach a cooking seminar to nearly 40 middle school girls and boys, what would you make?

As you ponder that question, I will mention that Janice Estabrook has her work cut out for her. As coordinator of gifted and enrichment services for Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, she is tasked with organizing more than 50 seminars annually for elementary, middle and high school students across the two counties.

The goal of the program is to offer interesting ways for students to learn outside their classrooms. Estabrook partners with local professionals who work in a vast array of fields to create meaningful, hands-on experiences for the students.

When Janice first reached out to me last year, she mentioned that she’d received many requests for a cooking seminar over the years but had yet to work out the details. There were, no doubt, logistical issues involved in finding a location where three-dozen-plus students from schools far and wide could meet to cook and eat lunch.

A big hurdle was crossed when Kegel’s Produce generously offered its commercial kitchen space and all the produce that a group of hungry students could eat.

I thought long and hard about recipes that would allow the students to play an active role in the preparation and, at the same time, push the boundaries on what they might typically choose to eat. That said, I wanted them to like it. The last thing I wanted to see was lots of donated produce in the trash can!

With flesh that resembles long, skinny noodles, spaghetti squash seemed like a worthy seasonal centerpiece for our meal. To make this curious vegetable even more kid-friendly, I thought of a meal I’ve made many times for my sons and nieces —pizza boats. Mixing familiar flavors with “questionable” vegetables has the potential to make those veggies far more palatable, and maybe even a big hit.

Though loaded with kid appeal, healthy spaghetti squash offers lots of benefits to the adult crowd, too. As part of the winter squash family, spaghetti squash is loaded with nutrients and low in calories and carbs. It offers a satisfying fresh veggie option throughout the winter and will keep for months when stored in a cool, dry place. It does not need to be refrigerated.

This easy, pizza-themed recipe relies on just a few additional pantry ingredients and, like your favorite pizza, can be topped according to personal preference. Smaller squash are ideal for this recipe, as the shells serve as makeshift bowls.

Scraping a fork across the roasted squash to magically produce “spaghetti” was a fun start. From there, students mixed in cheese and pizza sauce. (We prepared an easy sauce recipe available on my blog, but store-bought works well, too.) Then the students added toppings such as pepperoni, bell peppers and extra cheese.

Before everyone sat down to lunch, we whipped up fall slaw (an easy recipe found at lancasteronline.com) for a produce-centered side dish. To my delight, the initial feedback was terrific.

Most of the students scraped their squash bowls clean. Many came back for seconds on the slaw, which eventually ran out. There was very little waste and, ultimately, only two students disliked the meal. Given the size of the group, this truly exceeded my expectations.

Throughout our time together, these middle-schoolers asked thoughtful questions, shared recipes brought from home, and were fully engaged and attentive. In addition to cooking, we toured the Kegel’s facility, worked on several writing exercises, and discussed aspects of my job, ranging from photography and writing to recipe development and social media.

If you happen to be reading this and thinking that you have a special skill or unique job and would like to share it with a group of students, Estabrook would love to hear from you. To get in touch or for more information, go to iu13.org.

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