Sage Garden Project funds ways to promote healthy diets in schools

By Gary Warth

Originally published December 17, 2012 at 12:01 a.m., updated December 16, 2012 at 1:55 p.m. Students at Skyline Elementary in Solana Beach might be a little young for culinary school, but on Wednesday morning they had no problem slicing carrots, peeling parsnips and mixing eggs to make a stack of latkes.

While the assignment was part of teacher Judy Tillyard’s lesson about pancakes from around the world, students also were learning, whether they knew it or not, about vegetables.

“At home, they can get away once in a while with telling mom they don’t like something,” said Dawn Mayeda, program director for the Sage Garden Project. “It’s a lot more effective for the kids to be here and try something with all the other kids going, ‘Come on, take a bite.’ Peer pressure works in our favor.” Mayeda was at the school Wednesday morning to present a cooking cart from the Sage Garden Project, a nonprofit formed two years ago by a North County couple whose daughter, Sage, once attended Skyline School.

The couple wants to remain anonymous, but the website sagegardenproject .org shows their photo and describes the man as an award-winning scientist and his wife as an artist who once led a cooking school in Tuscany.

With a specific interest in reducing diabetes in youths through healthier diets, the couple has funded a garden at Ocean Knoll School in the Encinitas Union School District and are paying $15,000 a year for the upkeep of a garden at Solana Vista School.

Mayeda said the Sage Garden Project also provided a cooking cart for Ocean Knoll’s nutritional science room. The one at Skyline, which costs about $1,100 and is filled with cooking tools, can be wheeled from room to room like an AV cart for teachers to share.

“Having this roving kitchen cart is just amazing,” said Tillyard, who this month is demonstrating how to make crepes, tortillas, dosas from India and Swedish pancakes. “I would be running down to the teachers’ lounge to cook.”

The Sage Garden Project is similar to other efforts locally and nationally to improve diets for children. The Encinitas Union School District, which neighbors the Solana Beach Union School District, recently began serving students salads grown in their own school gardens.

Mayeda said cooking in the classroom may be a better way of getting children to eat healthier than slipping in more vegetables at school lunches. Recalling a recent article in the New York Times, Mayeda said simply putting healthier choices on lunch menus may result in uneaten and discarded meals, as students often won’t even try unfamiliar food. “The piece that’s missing is marketing to the kids,” she said. “What we’re doing is bringing the beets to the classroom for taste testing so when they see them at the salad bar, they’re going to know them and try them,” she said. “Now, the kids all know what parsnips are.” After helping slice parsnips and carrots, students impatiently watched a sand timer while Tillyard cooked

“Time! Time! Time! Time’s up!” the six eager students chanted as the first latkes were ready. Topped with sour cream and apple sauce, the potato pancakes quickly disappeared.

The cooking cart has a stone top, a portable infrared oven, a blender, mixer, measuring tools and nylon knifes that can cut vegetables and not skin. The cooking is done on an induction cooker that generates heats directly to cookware without getting hot itself. (760) 740-5410 @nctwarth
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