By Mickey Kudia
As part of HEART’s Compassionate Communities Awards program, we partnered with Vaughn Occupational High School located on the northwest side of Chicago. Vaughn provides special education for students with cognitive, developmental, and multiple disabilities.
Staff at the school were asked to identify how the collaboration could promote food justice and meet the needs of their students. Two goals were identified:
(1.) improve students’ understanding of healthy eating, and
(2.) develop students’ functional skills related to cooking and meal preparation.
A healthy plant-based eating and cooking program was then developed to address these goals.
HEART supported the program by providing $1,000 to fund the plant-based ingredients for the cooking class and instructional support for the Learning Behavior Specialist teaching the class.
Learning to Eat Healthy Using the “Go, Slow, Whoa!” Strategy
Go, Slow, Whoa! is a strategy for helping students identify which foods they can eat as much as they want (i.e., “Go” foods), foods they can eat sometimes (i.e., “Slow” foods), and foods they should rarely eat (i.e., “Whoa!” foods). It is included in the the National Institutes of Health’s 2013 Eat, Play, Grow Curriculum. This strategy provides a simple framework for helping students understand the health benefits of their food choices.
To meet the needs of students at Vaughn, this curriculum was modified with the help of HEART staff. A lesson with additional pictures and modeling was created. Additionally, worksheets with manipulatives were created to allow students to practice the strategy and assess student learning.
To measure students’ understanding of the strategy, a modified assessment was developed. Students were asked to place manipulatives with different food options on a worksheet as Go, Slow, or Whoa! When provided with 41 different food options, all 27 students in the class were able to organize the foods with at least 90% accuracy while working in pairs.
Using Plant-Based Cooking to Build Independence
To build on students’ understanding of healthy food choices and the benefits of eating plant-based whole foods, the students received lessons on plant-based cooking. The cooking class was funded through a $1,000 grant from HEART.
This class involved teaching important life skills such as preparing fruits and vegetables, using kitchen appliances, and measuring ingredients. Recipes were provided by the Coalition for Healthy School Foods and included cookie dough hummus, smoothies, and black bean tacos.
All 27 students were able to participate in the cooking class. Activities were modified based on students’ needs and functional goals. Improving students’ functional abilities helps to build independence and improve their quality of life.
If you would like to support this program or similar humane education projects, please consider making a donation to HEART. Your donation will support HEART’s mission to develop a generation of compassionate youth who create positive change for animals, people, and the natural world.