‘Food for Thought’ teaches cooking skills

Staff photo by Hannah Laclaire Annie Cius cracks an egg to mix into the ricotta she is preparing to add to her baked ziti.

NASHUA – Annie Cius likes to add spices directly to her food, while friend Schama Sako prefers to pour them into her hand first and then lightly sprinkle the herbs into the bowl.

Both of the Elm Street Middle School eighth-graders agree though – they always need more seasoning.

Cius and Sako sauteed garlic, wilted spinach and mixed ricotta for baked ziti Thursday afternoon, as the Family and Consumer Sciences classroom filled with the chocolatey aroma of the brownies they had made earlier.

They are just two of the students who have participated in Food for Thought, a program teacher Kate Paraggio started at the school last year “in an effort to provide a positive and empowering experience for students,” an explanation of the program said.

“Middle school is a challenging time for a lot of kids due to all of the changes they experience. It is especially difficult for many students at our school because more than 40 percent of our population is eligible for free and reduced lunch. Food for Thought was developed to combat some of this stress.”

Staff photo by Hannah Laclaire Schama Sako, left, and Annie Cius help each other measure out cheese for their recipe.

Every week, two students meet with Paraggio and Brandi Dutton, another teacher, to make a nutritious meal. They generally meet on Fridays so that the students can take something home to not only share with their families, but also to get them through the weekend in case they don’t have enough food at home.

The program is funded by a donation from the school’s Parent Teacher Organization and supported by the Elm Street food pantry, as well as the school’s FCS program.

Paraggio has a book of recipes including taco salads, stir fry, quesadillas, ziti and dessert items such as brownies and cupcakes.

“I love the enthusiasm,” she said of the students. “The most important part is the positive interactions, but the nutrition is also important.”

Paraggio started the program after feeling a sense of hopelessness in the school. She wanted a way to empower her students and teach them an important life skill.

Food for Thought began shortly thereafter, although it took some time to get off the ground.

However, once the new teacher contract was approved, Paraggio was able to quit her second job and devote more time to cooking with the students.

Dutton, who loves cooking at home with her husband, who is a restaurant manager, joined to help.

“It’s a great skill for the kids to have and they’re bringing something home to share with others,” Dutton said.

Sako and Cius said they enjoy cooking and having the time after school to spend time not only together, but getting to know their teachers as well.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.