When students arrived to school at St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville on Feb. 16, they were prepared to learn about math, science, reading, and also healthy cooking.
Students in grades 3-8 had the opportunity to prepare a meal with Chef Bryce Fluellen, a notable chef who runs a nutrition program for the American Heart Association based out of Los Angeles.
Fluellen grew up in Detroit, and is a graduate of Chef Eric’s Culinary School of French Cuisine. He formerly owned his own catering business that aimed to create healthier versions of soul food, and has also held corporate positions for companies such as Target, Starbucks, Marriott, and Magic Johnson Enterprises. He now travels nationally to teach children about the importance of nutrition and empower them to eat healthy.
The students split up into three one-hour sessions, where Fluellen talked to them about why healthy eating is important, and taught them how to make a healthy breakfast. Fluellen told them it is important to “be conscious of what you put in your brain and also what you put in your body” because “you only get one.”
Fluellen taught the students that the number one cause of death in the world is heart disease, and he feels so passionately about the subject because he lost several of his own family members to the disease. But 80 percent of the cases are preventable if people eat healthy and exercise, which he encouraged the students to do.
To demonstrate, Fluellen asked for volunteers to lead a dance. Jeanne Donatelli, the school’s assistant principal and Golden Apple Award-winning teacher, joined Fluellen and the student volunteer on the stage as the rest of the students danced in place.
Next, the chef led the students in making a breakfast of Greek yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, and granola, with the added flavor of honey and lime juice. As the students cut their fruit with individual cutting boards and knives, he encouraged them to arrange the strawberries and blueberries however they would like to make their dish visually appealing.
Eating bad food, Fluellen said, is “like putting water in your gas tank;” it will get you around the corner and then run out.
Fluellen asked the students if they liked the meal that they had made, and the vast majority of the students agreed that they did. For the few who did not, Fluellen asked them to figure out why they did not like it, and suggested substitutions that would make the meal better. He suggested that one student, whose favorite fruit is watermelon, substituted that for the strawberries and blueberries.
That evening, the school hosted a similar instruction with Chef Bryce for the Rockville community and for the parents of the school, so they could also learn how to prepare healthy meals for their children. But Isabella Grijalba and Kalkidan Alelegn, who are both in fifth grade, agreed that it was fun to learn how to make their own food, so they don’t have to rely on their parents to do it for them.
Glenn Benjamin, the school’s principal, said the day was carrying out their mission of educating the whole student.
“They are getting a great education here. They are getting great faith formation,” he said. “Their soul is healthy, their mind is healthy, so let’s get their bodies healthy.”
And, by having such hands-on instruction, the kids “aren’t just seeing it, they are doing it,” Benjamin said.
“I’m a hands-on learner,” said Justin Gibbins, a sixth grader at the school. “It is cool to do things with your hands and eat healthy at the same time. And maybe I’ll make it at home some day.”