One of the keys to eating nutritious, fresh recipes is being aware of what produce grows best in which season.

When many of us can get produce from all over the world at any time of year -- and others have limited exposure to fresh produce -- it often takes a school garden, hands-on experiences with planting and harvesting, and experiences with preparing and eating in-season foods for children to understand and appreciate seasonal produce.

Knowledge and appreciation for seasonality is a core outcome of FoodPrints, underlined by the DC Environmental Literacy Framework, Common Core Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards -- all which expect students to recognize patterns, such as the cycle of the seasons.

Patterns is one of the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: "Patterns exist everywhere - in regularly occurring shapes or structures and in repeating events and relationships. For example, patterns are discernible in the symmetry of flowers and snowflakes, the cycling of the seasons, and the repeated base pairs of DNA."

In FoodPrints classes, students are introduced to seasonally appropriate foods each month. They grow these same foods in their school gardens, and use them in investigations and lessons aligned to the curriculum and standards.

For example, in October, students may study, cook, and eat broccoli and sweet potatoes. In May, they harvest radishes and carrots. The experience of seeing produce grow in their gardens reinforces seasonality: they understand why fragile strawberries and tomatoes don’t grow in the winter but hardier plants like kale and collards are able to survive the cold. 

Students in younger grades understand how plants change over time, how the garden changes over time and why. FoodPrints teachers encourage students to observe and describe -- both by drawing and writing -- what plants and animals need to survive.

As part of this lesson, 1st graders at School Within School drew their favorite fruit or vegetable in each season:
Older students create seasonality charts using pictures and planting/harvesting information from seed catalogs. They divide a poster board up into four sections, one for each season, and then fill them with food that is harvested in each season. They draw from their harvesting experiences in their school gardens to help guide their thinking. This project always generates important discussion about why strawberries can’t grow in our school gardens in Washington, DC in the winter, but there are plenty of strawberries in our grocery stores year round.
This fall, third graders at Tyler Elementary determined which ingredients in the recipes they were preparing were in season locally. They discussed FoodPrints class talked about the importance of buying local. Students said:
  • “We support local farmers when we shop at farmers markets." 
  • "Buying local cuts back on cost/fuel from trucks driving across the country.” 
  • "There’s less chemicals and pesticides used if the produce doesn't have to travel as far."
  • "Produce tastes fresher!"

Using our Noodles


By Ibti Vincent, FoodPrints Lead Teacher

“Who here has made pasta from scratch?” the chef asked. About five hands shot into the air.

“Okay. Wow. That’s pretty good. But, now, I don’t mean that you took spaghetti noodles out of the box and boiled it. How many have made pasta out of flour and eggs?” One hand stayed raised.

Chef Ethan McKee was getting a sense of his students. He could see right off that they were good listeners and excited participants, but I bet he had no idea how awesome they would be at making pasta.

Last week, 30 fifth graders from the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens Elementary took a walking field trip a few blocks away to Urbana, a popular Dupont Circle restaurant specializing in Italian food. It was a real treat.

You see, normally, FoodPrints sessions are presented to our various schools as “in-school” field trips. Sure, the teachers are pretty accomplished cooks and instructors, but this time, class was taught by a professional chef, in a beautiful restaurant located in the Hotel Palomar -- it was the result of a wonderful collaboration between Urbana, FRESHFARM’s FoodPrints program, and a DC public elementary school.

Before walking the four blocks to Urbana, the students harvested spinach (grown from seed!) along with kale, oregano, thyme, and chives in their school garden.

The students -- along with their classroom teacher, FoodPrints interns, and a few parent volunteers -- were greeted at Urbana by Executive Chef McKee with enthusiasm and aprons. There would be a lot of flour involved in today’s hands-on lesson, so the aprons were a welcome addition to our usual FoodPrints setup.
After washing our hands well -- that certainly didn’t change from our normal FoodPrints procedure -- we got to work at the five workstations Urbana’s team had set up. Before their eyes, students transformed a volcano of flour and eggs into smooth pasta dough.
We worked in teams to roll out the dough, passing it again and again through a pasta roller. I think our longest piece was over 12 feet long!
Some became fettuccine noodles, while other sheets were set aside for ravioli.

As we finished rolling out our pasta sheets, the amicable sous chef used sauteed our homegrown greens with shallots and garlic, which we stirred with some fresh ricotta to make the ravioli filling. Then Chef Ethan showed us the delicate process of filling, folding, and cutting our pillowy packets. You want to see a ten-year-old focus? Hand him a tube of ravioli filling and a sheet of fresh pasta!

As our noodles boiled -- fresh pasta takes just moments to cook to perfection -- we got cleaned up. Class ended with a feast. Chef Ethan and his team brought out pizzas, followed by bowls of our homemade pastas: spinach and kale ravioli in tomato sauce and fettuccine tossed in herb butter. (“Pizza, too?!” I think the 5th grade boys almost fainted from excitement. There were NO leftovers.)

Many thanks to the team at Urbana for making this most fun field trip possible. We hope to continue this fun and delicious partnership!

The SWS second graders kicked off Earth Day celebrations in great style with a bike ride to Lincoln park and a trash-free picnic! 

The Lincoln park excursion -- the culminating bike trip as part of the DCPS Cornerstone program that aims to teach all second graders to ride a bike – was a perfect opportunity to collaborate with their  monthly FoodPrints session. We used the preparation for the picnic – and the picnic itself – as a way to teach students about reducing trash, how to prepare and store items with reused containers and less packaging, and what “trash-free” could look like.
During the time I was planning this outing, the cherry blossoms were just blooming in Stanton park and I was astonished at the amount of trash left in the park by people who came to picnic and enjoy the trees.  I want our children to understand that going on a picnic doesn’t have to mean take-out foods with lots of plastic bags and throw-away containers.  With a little time and planning, we can make a trash free picnic with many of the recyclable containers we all have in our cabinets at home.  

Some of the recipes used for our lunch are from the children’s cooking magazine and website ChopChop (Lemony Hummus, a recipe by Cris Comerford, White House Executive Chef), and others were created by turning our yummy salad recipes (including ABC Salad) into sandwich filling to make them easier to eat. Ms. Scofield’s class had fun making the fillings, and Mr. Leavitt’s class was in charge of making the sandwiches and packing it all up for the ride.

To take our trash free picnic one step further, the students helped me recycle an old tablecloth into cloth napkins that we used for the picnic. They decorated the napkins with their ideas of how to help the earth and the importance of living “green.”  These ideas can feel overwhelming at times, but if we all just start with something like beginning to use less plastic bags and re-use our, we can truly make a difference in the world we leave our children and their grandchildren. We will wash the tablecloths and napkins and use them in the SWS FoodPrints kitchen for future lessons.
The accompanying bike trip was also a success! It was a feat for some students that were just barely able to ride or hadn’t ridden at all before the unit started. DCPS loaned SWS some bikes for students who didn’t have them, but most second graders brought their bikes every Thursday for a few months and received instruction from Mr. Chapman, the SWS physical education teacher, on riding technique and safety.

Many parents came along to ride and help. John Cochran, dad to Liam, had a great time: “It was a fun trip, with lots of grownups on hand to help the kids and a delicious lunch prepared by the kids in FoodPrints.”

Winter Vegetables


Early childhood science standards include a focus on studying seasons and weather patterns through observations, and by collecting data to search for patterns. In FoodPrints, students study fruits and vegetables available in the garden and from local farms through the seasons. Together, these experiences help our youngest learners synthesize these sets of knowledge to more deeply understand the impact of seasonal changes on the natural world around them.
Observing different types of winter produce.
At Peabody, the first FoodPrints session following the winter holiday was a focus on winter vegetables. After visiting their school garden for observations, students looked at the Growing Healthy Schools  - Choose What’s in Season chart provided to us by OSSE’s Healthy Schools Act Initiatives.  It provides a visible illustration of the locally grown, seasonal fruit and vegetables available in the Washington area and has been used in the Peabody FoodPrints classroom throughout the year to support students’ learning.  
Questions we considered:
What do you notice about the different seasons? 
How did the school garden change during each of these seasons?
What do you notice about vegetables available in winter versus summer? 
Why aren’t they all available in every season? Why do different plants grow in different seasons? How can you explain the differences? 

Children noticed that the leafy greens that were left in their school garden, unprotected from the cold temperatures, were wilted and frozen. They also noticed that the green leafy vegetables were in the spring section of the chart but not in the winter section.  

What happens to greens in the winter?

As small groups of children compared the collection of winter vegetables in the FoodPrints classroom and weighed them on the kitchen scale, the conversation focused on not only the weight of each vegetable, but the differences in the coverings of the root vegetables and the thick skinned winter squash. 

Weighing and measuring our winter bounty.
Apples + Beets + Carrots = ABC Salad
Mashing potatoes and squash.
As the children prepared ABC Salad and Butternut Squash-Potato Mash,  they noticed the beautiful colors that winter vegetables have and learned about the health benefits of eating red and orange vegetables. We also read a wonderful book called This Year's Garden that follows the evolution of a garden throughout the course of the seasons.