Written by: Natalie Goldsworthy

In a featured Common Threads blog last year, NYC public school teacher and wellness advocate, Antoniette DiGregorio, captured the chaos of schools shutting down following the initial public health emergency of COVID-19 with her statement:

“Sunday night we found out that schools were closing and by Wednesday we had to be out of the building,” DiGregorio said. “We had three days to quickly figure out how to transition remotely.” 

Fast forward a year later and schools have reopened, but the pandemic has not ended. In the past year, Common Threads offered virtual nutrition education classes to thousands of students across the country. After a program evaluation, the Research & Evaluation team identified how students benefited from participating in these e-lessons.

Finding Number One : Students got to learn about food and nutrition from trained chefs.

When Common Threads asked schools what they needed to implement virtual nutrition education programming, the answer was resoundingly ‘someone to help us teach classes’! So, Common Threads hired more trained Chef Instructors to facilitate virtual classes instead of training teachers to lead this instruction. The benefits we observed and captured were that chefs brought real world cooking experiences and creativity to the e-classroom. Additionally, for students, especially younger children, they had a chance for a number of weeks to build positive relationships with a new adult during a time when they were isolated from their friends and peers. Partnering schools loved having experts present in their classes, who could answer nutrition and cooking questions with confidence.

Finding Two: Families got involved and nutrition education was a household experience.

Typically, when children learn in a physical school space it can be hard for siblings and family members to learn along with students, and then transfer key activities to home settings. Despite some challenges of virtual learning, such as parents and students needing to share working spaces, virtual education opened the door for family participation in nutrition education. We saw families getting involved  by sitting in on lessons and helping children make nutritious snacks along with the chefs. We saw older siblings really engage by helping their sibling answer a question or find an ingredient in a household cabinet. We hope that families continue healthy cooking as a family activity. 

Finding Three: Students made nutritious snacks using ingredients in their households.

A core component of Common Threads classes is that every lesson includes a snack or meal that children get to make and then taste. Trying new, healthy foods in exciting, tasty ways is one of the most critical components of successful nutrition education. When Common Threads conducted classes in-person we brought all the equipment and ingredients, but virtual learning changed this norm. We saw children learning where to find ingredients in their own pantry, using their own bowls, spoons and cups, and tasting something healthy they could make again in a space where they live everyday. And Common Threads knew that shopping was a challenge for some families, so we stepped up to offer ingredient delivery or pick-up for families whenever this was possible and we had partner support, so that students had the right ingredients to cook along with chef instructors!

Common Threads knows there are some things that virtual learning can’t replace, but  getting many more chefs connected to students, inviting families to participate in lessons, and helping students practice skills in their own homes were key successes! 

If you are an educator or after-school youth partner interested in virtual or in-person nutrition education, and you are located in any of key markets (Chicago, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Miami, Pittsburgh, Erie, five boroughs of New York City) , please reach us at info@commonthreads.org.