Thursday, December 9, 2010

Purple Asparagus' Ultimate Set of Tools for Chefs Move to Schools

To support the Chefs Move to School program, All-Clad and several other kitchen manufacturers have teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America to provide 1,000 schools with tool kits made up of induction burners, pots, knives, and some common utensils. Not long after the announcement, I learned from Audrey Rowe, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs in the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, that these kits were really intended to be used for food demonstrations. I had asked because while I find our burner and pots useful in our Purple Asparagus presentations, these are not the most critical tools in our bag of tricks.

I have found that the best way to engage kids in our nutrition education, to build enthusiasm in them about trying new fruits and vegetables, is to get their hands dirty and involve them in every stage of the cooking process. Over the years of running our school programs, we've developed our own tool kit, a box full of kid sized utensils, 25 of each, along with a few other critical items (first aid kid of course!). With our experience of providing hundreds of hours of educational programming to thousands of Chicago parents and children, I thought it would be useful to chefs starting to move into their adopted schools to see the Purple Asparagus bin in various stages of packing.


On the bottom, we've got little silicone rolling pins - given their cost, we only stock six of them and divide classes into teams of kids. They're great for rolling out tortilla and samosa dough. (Sur la Table)

Next to them, we have 25 each of tiny whisks and rubber spatulas. (The Kids' Table and Sur la Table)

On the side, there's our first aid kid adjacent to commonly used ingredients like extra-virgin olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, and honey. In the side corner, we've got a bottle of sanitizing pellets for the many programs in facilities without sinks.

The next level is our veggie peelers and kid cutters. Twenty stainless mashers are hiding under the peelers. I know some people who cook with kids in schools teach them how to handle real knives. Working with kids K-4, 25 at a time, this thought makes me a bit squeamish. Thankfully, board member, Elena Marre, owner of The Kids' Table found these wonderful wavy cutters. Ordinarily used for garnish cutting, they are a safe, effective way for kids to cut nearly anything. (Peelers from Sur la Table; bowls and cutters from The Kids Table or Northwestern Cutlery)

The third layer is filled with small cutting boards, 25 stainless steel small bowls, a can opener, a set of tongs, a strainer, hand sanitizer, and an extension cord for our electric appliances like hand blenders, induction burners, ovens, etc. We've also got BPA-free measuring cups and spoons. (Cutting boards and small utensils from a restaurant supply store; bowls from The Kids' Table; and measuring tools from Sur la Table)

Finally, we fill in the top with compostable tasting cups (perfect for kid size portions), forks, knives and spoons. We've also got rubber gloves for instructors and small plastic bags for unused ingredients. (Our compostables come from a restaurant supply store, but Whole Foods also carries these items).

Before closing our box up, we layer in our clean towels and an apron for the instructor.

This bin, supplemented with glass demonstration bowls, a knife roll, and a handful of other small equipment, has provided cooking education from the far north suburbs down to far south side of Chicago. It's taught 4-year olds at farmers' markets how to mash raspberries for homemade soda and fourth graders how to make pumpkin muffins.

While we're always on the prowl to find some new fun tool for our box of tricks, this is a great starting point for any school program.

Posted as part of Fight Back Fridays.


  1. Melissa, this is a GREAT list of kitchen tools for kids - we had been discussing a great "prize" for those kids who have completed several "sprouts cards" at the end of the market (Green City Market) season - and tossed around the idea of giving our special "over achievers" a tote with kid-friendly cooking utensils.

  2. Great list of tools, Melissa! I like seeing what other youth culinary educators keep in their box of tools :-) I am a huge fan of the kid-safe-knives by Curious Chefs. They are plastic, serrated and very sturdy.

  3. Sara, I would talk to Elena as she does wonderful gift packages - I'm sure she'd love to help the market out on that!

    Michelle, Thanks! I'll check out those knives - they sound like they would be great. I'll be sharing a handful of other tool lists as we've found some terrific adult products that can be used in kid ways.


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