On the Tot Chef Culinary Program, for Carrie Beegle

Cooking class helps engage students and parents in food program.

When Carrie Beegle, foodservice director for Cloverleaf Local School District in Lodi, Ohio, came to Cloverleaf she wanted a way to engage the parents and children in her district, so she created the Tot Chef cooking program. 

Q. What is the Tot Chef program?

It’s a cooking class for parents and children. There are 10 teams of two, and parents must come with their children. It’s a six-week course. Each class is two hours. We had our first class in April. The program is for elementary students. If we start them out young, then that’s something they will take with them throughout their lives.

I talk about nutrition a lot. I usually have different products that I’ve gotten from the grocery stores. We talk about reading labels and how we can add nutrition to our children’s meals without them even knowing about it, like using whole-grain or vegetable pastas. We had a taco day where we showed them how to make their own seasoning rather than using the pack from the grocery store, which is full of sodium and silicon.

My husband, Greg, an executive chef with AVI Foodsystems, volunteered to help. In the first class we show basic knife skills. So many people don’t know how to hold a knife correctly. We teach them kitchen safety. We talk about fire safety a lot. We show them all the different kitchen equipment so they become familiar with it.

Everybody has been talking childhood obesity and what can we do about it. It’s really hard as a school foodservice director to make a connection with parents because we get so frustrated because everybody is pointing a finger at us. We want to help these children make nutritional decisions; however, they are already making decisions before they get to us. When they come here as kindergartners they already know what they like. It’s my hope that we can get these parents to realize that even at this young age we can get children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

Q. How is the program funded?

We received a Fuel Up to Play 60 grant and also a Cabot Creamery grant. I do charge $20 for the program so we can keep it going. If anyone is on the free or reduced program they are free.

Q. Were you surprised by the reaction to the program?

I wasn’t surprised about the reaction from parents. I had been speaking to them about the program and I had a list of parents who wanted to do it. They want to eat healthy and do the best that they can for their children. Unfortunately, some of them just don’t know how to do it.

Q. What advice would you give to directors looking to start a similar program?

Make sure you have the time. Your heart has got to be in it. You need a basic support staff or you’re not going to do well. I have staff volunteer to help out and I have total administrative support. Find out what the students and parents want to know. If you’re not teaching them something they want to learn they aren’t going to come back. And, of course, you’ve got to make it fun.  

Q. What’s next with Tot Chef?

Next year we’re going to have the basic course and add an advanced course. Also, at the middle school we’re going to do a spin on this because I have some grant money left. We’re going to pair up students and parents and do a cooking challenge with judges.

When Carrie Beegle, foodservice director for Cloverleaf Local School District in Lodi, Ohio, came to Cloverleaf she wanted a way to engage the parents and children in her district, so she created the Tot Chef cooking program.