Jumbo’s Kitchen Engages Children with Food and Nutrition

by Allison Knott, RD

Jumbo’s Kitchen is a Friedman student group with the mission to “promote an understanding of nutrition, introduce basic cooking skills, and empower kids to make healthy snacks with a focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”  Laura Carroll, the Public Relations and Website Manager officer for Jumbo’s Kitchen and volunteer since 2010, explained the Tufts student group in greater detail.

Tell me about the history of Jumbo’s Kitchen (JK).

JK was started in 2008 and was formerly called “Cooking with Kids.” It began as an Albert Schweitzer fellowship project of two Tufts medical students.  The goal was to provide and teach low-income students basic cooking skills and simple nutrition tips in a fun and interactive environment. “Cooking with Kids” was adopted by Friedman students in 2009 and was renamed Jumbo’s Kitchen in honor of the University’s mascot- Jumbo the elephant.  Friedman students strengthened partnerships with the DotWell Community Health Organization in Dorchester, MA and expanded the program to three schools in the Dorchester neighborhood.

The DotWell organization is a community-based health initiative. It is a partnership between the Dorchester House and the Codman Square Health Center. The mission of DotWell is to address health disparities in the community through a variety of programs.  DotWell organizes afterschool programs for schools in Dorchester and Jumbo’s Kitchen is one of the activities where students are placed.

What does Jumbo’s Kitchen entail?

Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers teach low-income elementary school kids simple and basic cooking skills every Friday afternoon during the academic year.  We use classrooms without access to a kitchen, so all skills are taught with minimal equipment and do not require heat cooking. Rather, we do lots of chopping and assembling dishes like pasta salad, fruit salad, smoothies, Greek yogurt parfaits, veggies with hummus, and guacamole.  Recently, we purchased a toaster oven and have used that to make veggie pizzas and fruit crumble.

How many Friedman students are involved? 

The JK board is made up of four Friedman students. Our volunteers come from Friedman, the MPH program, and the Tufts School of Medicine.  The number of Friedman students involved is hard to estimate since volunteers come sporadically, but there has been a consistent commitment from the Friedman community since JK’s inception.

Do you have an estimate of how many students are reached by JK each year?

The number of students in each class ranges from 8 to 14. We rotate schools and students every 4-6 weeks.  We probably reach anywhere from 40 to 50 children each year.

Who funds Jumbo’s Kitchen and how can individuals support the program?

The Friedman Student Council and the Tisch College of Civic Engagement fund Jumbo’s Kitchen through an application process. The best way for people to support Jumbo’s Kitchen is to volunteer!  We’re always looking for more volunteers.

How can students get involved?

Students can volunteer any Friday afternoon and can come as often as they like!  We’re expanding our lesson plans to include more food origins, food history, and MyPlate information.  Hopefully, these additions will give the children a better understanding of where their food comes from and the 5 different food groups. We’re also working on a new website, a quarterly newsletter (for the Friedman and the DotWell community), outreach to parents, and improving our evaluations of the participating children’s food/nutrition knowledge. We’ll be looking for new board members this spring to take over in the fall of 2012, too!

Interested in becoming involved? Contact Elaine Siew, Communications Officer for Jumbo’s Kitchen, Elaine.Siew@tufts.edu.

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a volunteer for Jumbo’s Kitchen?

Jumbo’s Kitchen is really rewarding.  The kids are bright, energetic, and enthusiastic about the food we “cook,” or at least most of them are!  And they’re really cute. It’s great to see kids try fruits/veggies they didn’t think they would like and then do. We encourage all the kids to try everything once and never to saw “eww.” It’s adorable how excited they get over a can-opener!  Each kid takes one turn turning the can-opener so everyone can have a chance!  Also, as a volunteer, you get to eat the food!

To read more about Jumbo’s Kitchen and learn how to get involved, visit, the Jumbo’s Kitchen website.  You can also find the group on Facebook and on Twitter @JumbosKitchen.

*This interview was edited and condensed

*Source of images

Allison is a second year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian.  She has a passion for communicating sound nutrition information to the public.  Follow her kitchen blunders, triathlon adventures, and read nutrition advice on her blog, Choices.Habits.Lifestyle.

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