Wellness in the Schools continually adapts our lessons to meet the needs of our communities. In some cases, the partnership between WITS Chefs and schools is so strong that an entire new curriculum is created. The Rainbow Salad Lab is one of those colorful cases.
The idea was born from a collaboration between WITS Chef Cait Olesky and Lu Sutton Elementary School garden coordinator Erin Compton. Erin and Chef Cait decided to refresh a Greens Lab taught a few years ago with a new, colorful twist – adding the bounty of locally grown California produce and a “mix-and-match create your class salad” activity.
Why is Lu Sutton Elementary such a great place for the Rainbow Salad Lab? Lu Sutton Elementary has a fantastic garden, and gardening is a regular part of the school curriculum. Students are familiar with the yearly life cycle of the garden and all it has to offer. Erin keeps the school garden bountiful year-round with greens (lettuces, chard, and kale), apples, beets, squashes, pumpkins, herbs, and more.
Not being able to teach in person this year hasn’t stopped Erin’s creativity. She has found many innovative ways to keep students involved, even if they couldn’t be weeding and harvesting as they usually do. One of these innovations was to focus on California agriculture, as it is a considerable producer of greens, citrus, stone fruits, berries, nuts, and floriculture. California grows nearly 100% of the U.S. artichoke crop, with 80% of that produced in Monterey County – not far from Lu Sutton!
For the Rainbow Salad Lab, Chefs Cait and Nancy Larson teach a virtual-live lab to each class. Chef Cait demonstrates making the same salad and herb vinaigrette for all classes. All of the Lab ingredients are grown in California and can frequently be found in the school’s garden. The Lab also includes items often in the cafeteria lunches that students take home, such as sunflower seeds, craisins, and apples.
As with all our Labs, we discuss the health benefits of each ingredient in the salad. This nutrition lesson includes information on the vitamins and nutrients of the leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, and the benefits of the healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil.
The fun and learning continues with the “mix-and-match create your class salad recipe” activity. Each class collectively chooses from a list of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, plus items such as cheese, olives, and herbs. Their choices are then added to a green salad base. At the end of the week, class recipes are put into a hat, and Chef Cait blindly chooses one to distribute to the entire school, as “Class XXXX’s California Rainbow Salad”. Students will even get a take-home spice packet to mix into oil and vinegar at home for a delicious dressing.
It is an action-packed lesson with gardening, cooking, nutrition, local agriculture, and an element of surprise all wrapped into one. What makes the lesson memorable, like all WITS Labs, is that it is a complete sensory experience: students are smelling and tasting the ingredients that they are hearing about, and forming these connections.
Chef Cait says of the Rainbow Salad Lab, “this Lab is a fun and creative way to motivate kids to make and eat a big beautiful salad with local ingredients and also ones that are easily accessible to all of our families.”
It turns out that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is actually a bowl. And that bowl is filled with salad.