Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Cookin’ With Kids

Research on nutrition education and cooking activities with kids consistently point to positive and lasting affects on their perception of food. After being involved with the creation of healthy recipes, kids routinely show an inclination for choosing and enjoying fruits and vegetables. There is even more evidence of this when cooking is paired with garden based education. The full circle really hits home when a child is involved with a seed to fork curriculum, infusing their lives with a true knowledge of where their food comes from. A study called The School Lunch Initiative Evaluation Project was one of the first to look at the many variables involved in school garden, nutrition, and lunch programming. Specifically, the kids in the study showed an increased knowledge of nutrition, preference for leafy greens, a positive attitude about healthy school lunch options, and had a grasp on the idea that our eating habits effect the environment. Furthermore, parents in the study who reported eating dinner with their kids every day, noted an improvement in their food choices at the dinner table.

Another powerful study, discussed in this article by Pamela Koch, takes a look at the link between eating habits and cooking programs within schools.

“The third group received a series of classroom lessons called Cookshop (CS), which made direct connections to school lunch through having students cook the same vegetable and whole grain recipes in the classroom that they were served in the lunchroom. While they cooked and ate the food as a class, the students also learned about the food, its nutritional value, history, and the science of plants…. the students who received Cookshop significantly increased their intake of the targeted foods. Additionally, the students who received CS had the greatest knowledge gains; the greatest increased preferences for whole, plant foods; and gains in their confidence that they had acquired basic cooking skills. These outcomes suggest that hands-on working with and learning about food — specifically cooking and eating healthy foods — was a necessary ingredient to motivate students to eat new, healthful offerings in the lunchroom.”

When our country is in the throws of such wide-scale obesity and diabetes epidemics, these simple proven results of better nutrition are imperative for the next generation to follow. Take this cost-benefit analysis of California’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, a federally funded nutrition education program for low income families, by Block Joy Amy, V. Pradhan, G. Goldman:

“Using enrolled participants’' demographics and food-related dietary behavior, results indicated that for every $1.00 spent on the program, $3.87–$8.34 is saved in health care costs. These results demonstrate that nutrition education programs are a good investment.”

So it is obvious that we need to continue to advocate for and support gardens and nutrition education in our schools. But we can also start at home with some fun and easy activities. Yes, there will be messy counters and floors, but the value of spending time together, empowering your child to have confidence in the kitchen, and see and taste the results of their own important work, will overpower the small inconveniences tenfold. Below are some great resources to get cookin!


Research articles that support the effectiveness of Garden Enhanced Nutrition Education

Life Lab's Garden Enhanced Nutrition Education Resource List includes resources for educators including many online lessons.

Check out Life Labs Posts on Cooking and Nutrition which includes a video of Pacific Elementary Schools Food Lab Program – where the students cook every school lunch!

Free workshops on improving school food and wellness in California

Life Lab's Plant It, Grow It, Eat It Workshop explore ways to teach nutrition to elementary and middle school students through gardening, harvesting, and meal preparation.

Feeling Fine With Fresh Foods Field Trip at the Garden Classroom
A winter field trip for 4-5th grader classes that explores health and nutrition topics and where students make and enjoy a stone soup.

Websites on Family Cooking cooking with kids for a healthy body, planet, and community. Also check out her blog roll for many other great sites. 350+ Cooking videos and recipes from PBS Parents a nice site on cooking with kids


Family Friendly Cookbooks for the Young Chef
The Family Kitchen Garden: How to Plant, Grow, and Cook Together by Karen Liebreich, Jutta Wagner, and Annette Wendland
The Family Kitchen Garden integrates the garden and kitchen in a simple, fun way that parents and children can enjoy together. By teaching kids how to garden, they will be more likely to eat what they grow — what a rewarding way to encourage healthy foods!

The Whole Family Cookbook: Your Guide to Cooking Healthy Seasonal Food with your Kids by Michelle Stern
The Whole Family Cookbook offers time-saving strategies for shopping and cooking, along with the resources you need to cook healthy, local food in any season.  Delicious recipes will please discriminating adults and will tickle the taste buds of children, getting them excited to eat healthy meals – for their bodies and for the benefit of the planet.

Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes by Mollie Katzen
Pretend Soup is the classic cookbook for kids, written by Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook, and educator Ann Henderson. "The child is the focus here: attention is paid to physical ability, comfortable work levels, and variety of tactile experience. A long list of skills and attitudes children can gain from cooking supports the idea that the process is more important than the product." – School Library Journal. Recommended for ages 5 to 8. Also check out Katzen's Honest Pretzels and Other Amazing Recipes for older kids.

Cooking with Children: 15 Lessons for Children, Age 7 and Up, Who Really Want to Learn to Cook by Marion Cunningham
Although not as colorful and hip as some of the other cookbooks on this list, Marion Cunningham (Fannie Farmer Cookbooks) has created a book for adults and children that teaches very useful culinary skills as well as the importance of quality family time preparing meals. For example, in chapter one readers will make Vegetable Soup while learning how to chop vegetables, sauté, tell the difference between boil and simmer, and how to be organized. Recommended for ages 7 and up.

Fanny At Chez Panisse by Alice Waters
Opening up the magic world of cooking to children, Alice Waters describes, in the words of seven-year-old Fanny, the path food travels from the garden to the kitchen to the table. Teaching kids where food really comes from not just from the market but also from farms and people who care about the earth, Fanny at Chez Panisse has lessons on the importance of eating with your hands, of garlic and of composting and recycling. With 46 recipes…. – from the publisher. Recommended for ages 9 to 12.

The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes
by Phaidon Press
Phaidon Press' Silver Spoon for Kids. Intelligent Italian recipes with easy instructions from the publishers of the famed Silver Spoon for adults (which is a 50yr old, 1000 page tome of Italian Cooking).

The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-food World by Hugh Garvey & Matthew Yeomans
While not a kid's cookbook to cook from – Gastrokid is of note here as it's a great place to start to broaden kid's food horizons. Think of it as a cook-together book. From the back " the Foodie Parent's Guide to Raising Passionate Adventurous Eaters".


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Teaching a Growing Classroom Workshop at @OakSpringGardenFoundation in collaboration with I feel like I’ve fallen into a small French village. This is the former estate of Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in Virginia. Mrs. Mellon was an avid horticulturalist who designed the White House Rose Garden! I am staying in the room where Jackie Kennedy stayed when she visited here!! Sharing a weekend in this space with teachers who love kids and gardens is a truly unforgettable experience. ... See MoreSee Less

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Just when I thought we’d seen it all ... this is an agrophotovoltaic school garden underneath massive solar panels at @Manzo.Ecology in Tucson. The elementary school students here gather and analyze data on how the shade from the panels helps the plants grow and how the plants help cool the panels and increase their efficiency. What?!?! It’s amazing and gives me hope. Oh, and also they have a desert tortoise in their courtyard. ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program at their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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What happens when Whole Kids Foundation partners with you to bring 50+ leaders from School Garden Support Organizations from across the country together to get to talk shop, inspire each other, problem-solve around shared challenges, and eat amazing food prepared and served by happy 5th graders? MAGIC. That's what happens. #sgso2018 ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program for their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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We are so grateful to be starting 2018 with such strong support! Because of so many generous gifts from our supporters like you, we surpassed our 2017 fundraising goal of $124,000, with all campaign donations totaling $125,835.

These funds will help make Life Lab field trip and summer camp programs possible for children from families and schools that could otherwise not afford them. We believe that ALL children deserve the chance to love learning, healthy food, and nature. Thanks to your support, this year we will serve even more children in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.


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Happy almost 2018, Life Lab fans! We are only $809 dollars away from reaching our $124,000 year-end fundraising goal! Before you ring in the new year, will you help us ensure a promising 2018? 100% of the funds necessary to do this important work come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that we can continue to deepen and expand our reach, so that even more children can experience the joy of loving learning, healthy food, and nature? Your tax-deductible gift made by midnight tonight will go directly to supporting our programs.
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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom