Del Mar Hills students experience a taste of Native Californian cooking


As the fourth grade classes at Del Mar Hills Academy concluded their Native Californian Social Studies Unit, they had a chance to participate in a cooking class that highlighted ingredients and cooking techniques used by the Native Californian tribes they studied.

The class was facilitated by Fernanda Larson, certified nutritionist, culinary instructor and creator of the Cook for Thought Project, which integrates curriculum standards in culinary experiences. The students were divided into “tribes” and asked to brainstorm on how the native tribes developed methods for harvesting, preparing and cooking indigenous foods. They worked together to produce a complete menu of: Cactus Salad with Roasted Pine Nuts; Corn Meal Flat bread; and Prickly Pear Mush with Wild Honey. They also sampled Salmon Jerky and Stinging Nettle Tea.

“Cooking is a multi-sensorial activity, and engaging children in the process has an enormous potential to enhance their learning experience. They see, touch, smell and taste a bit of the history they had just learned about. It becomes real and more relevant — and it makes for an unforgettable enrichment opportunity,” says Fernanda.

All 39 fourth graders were excited to taste their dishes, and many were very surprised that “it actually tasted good!” Another enthusiastic fourth grader said:

“I loved to see how bright pink the prickly pear was, and it was really fun to mash it with a real rock!”

As to why cooking classes belong in schools, Mrs. Hemerick, fourth grade teacher at Del Mar Hills Academy, says: “The whole experience brought the students’ learning to life. They were able to connect with the people and the history they were learning about. When students have this kind of experience, they have fun learning and they’ll always remember it.”

The Cook for Thought Project also presented the class “From Seed to Plate – Cycling through Energy and Measurement,” where third graders practiced their math, science and reading skills while making seed tapes, planting them in the school garden and cooking Carrot Zucchini patties. One third grader said: “Besides eating, the best part was practicing team work!” First graders will be next in line, with a class called “School Lunch from the 1800s.’” “Cooking classes teach students not only how to handle and prepare ingredients in a healthy and meaningful manner, but it combines mathematical, scientific and historical/cultural concepts in one hands-on activity,” Fernanda said. “It is such a rich learning experience, and the best part is they get to eat it at the end!”

The Cook for Thought Project is offering these amazing learning experiences to all elementary school-age children with two summer camps: Cooking through California’s History, and America, the Delicious! Camps are offered through the Del Mar Union School District, and will be hosted at Torrey Hills Elementary School. For more information and detailed camp descriptions, visit register: