Guest Blogger

An #alsc20 Highlight by Samantha Mairson

Institute Graphic Plain
Curiosity Kitchen Promoting Healthy Living through Programming and Partnerships at #alsc20

This session interested me because my library launched a “Cooking with Kids” virtual cooking class program during COVID and it has been incredibly successful.

Unfortunately, I went on lunch break at the time this session aired live during the conference.  I desperately needed the break so I watched the archived video recording of this session instead of attending live. I easily navigated to the archived recording via the ALSC Institute conference webpage. The recording is hosted on Vimeo. It is captioned and shows as being posted to Vimeo on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 6:37 PM EST… but the session wasn’t hosted until October 2 at 2pm so I must be reading placeholder metadata.

The ALSC Institute team has also provided a session chat transcript in the WordPress conference attendee portal. Unfortunately, the chat transcript for this session is sparse.  However, there was this interesting exchange:

00:12:48             Bina Williams:          How much does each cart cost?

00:13:34             Jill Wujcik:                 About $10,000

Wowza! The cart that this library uses for their food literacy program costs a lot of money. Also, it seems the Charlie Cart curriculum they use is part of that cart purchase. It is worth nothing: the Charlie Cart Project is a 501c3 non-profit organization launched 2020.

The Anoka County librarians giving this presentation discussed how the Charlie Cart – more or less – ended up in their laps thanks to community partners (Minnesota Health Department, a settlement with the tobacco industry, and library leadership). They backed into finding programs to make use of the cart, and it sounds like a curriculum came with the cart so that easy.

Grant opportunities to look into include:

The cart demos of making Banh Mi (Vietnamese-French) sandwiches spliced into the presentation felt a lot like TV cooking programs – think Rachel Ray or Ina Gardner.

Some more curriculum ideas came from:

The program presenters also discussed other infrastructure for their cooking literacy programs. This included essential things such as:

Servsafe food handler certification, $15/person (certification lasts 3 years)

Licensing the program space (county public health)

Rules and Expectations

  • Safety rules
  • Cleanliness rules
  • Read the full recipe and instructions

The programs basically marketed themselves, according to presenters, but clever and intriguing program names help. Program partnerships and joint grant-funded efforts continued to build around the Charlie Cart, e.g. YMCA, 4-H.

  • Be creative
  • Use connections
  • Have a plan

You don’t need a Charlie Cart but here are things you must have:

  • Clean work surface (can be cutting board)
  • Running water (can be cooler with spigot)
  • Soap, water, spray bottle with bleach solution, paper towel
  • Cooking tools and equipment (comprehensive list in Toolkit)
    • Large waterproof bag for dirty dishes = invaluable
    • Plastic tarp to cover cart if you’re using one
    • Lots of recipes out there that don’t require electricity if you don’t have it

Best practices:

  • Have a helper (lots to pay attention to!), like a teen or adult volunteer
  • Be prepared
  • Try the recipe ahead of time
  • Have extra of everything
  • Keep everything clean

Lessons learned:

  • Class size and student age is important, depends on room space and volunteer-staff ratio (table groups kept small)
    • Kid only classes should be 2nd grade+
    • Family groups are best for cooking together
  • Go over rules at the beginning of every class
    • Be safe
      • Focus on your task
      • Follow instructions
      • Always use safe practices when using tools
    • Be responsible
      • Wait your turn
      • Follow instruction
      • Put tools back where they belong
    • Be courteous
      • Wait for everyone to be served before eating
      • Use constructive language about texture, etc. instead of yuck! or gross
  • Evaluate and improve your program (Project Outcome)
    • Tablet surveys at the end of programs


  • Talk about herbs/leaves
    • Let kids try herbs
    • Size comparisons are great, e.g. “make lady bug size pieces”
  • C with your fingers, slice down baguette example

With food literacy programs, kids are becoming invested in the process of their food.

Presented also touched on moving everything online during the pandemic. They described pre-recorded asynchronous lessons e.g. Dutch Baby Pancake that “air live”.

This Institute session with Curiosity Kitchen closed with presented contact information and a dressing making scene. Overall, the session is a great, approachable guide to food literacy programming for libraries. It is chalk full of valuable resources to help libraries develop their programs.

For reference:

Session Description

Learn how Anoka County Libraries partner with 4-H, the YMCA and county health and wellness agencies to provide quality cooking classes for children and families. Curiosity Kitchen programs use learning lessons employing Charlie Carts – compact, mobile kitchens – that allow participants to connect healthy habits, food and cooking. Using math, language arts, science, and social studies concepts, these lessons are perfect for cooperative learning.

Jill Wujcik, Library Associate [Mississippi Library], Anoka County Library, Minnesota

Becky Walpole, Branch Manager [Crooked Lake Library], Anoka County Library, Minnesota

As part of receiving a Friends of ALSC Institute Scholarship, recipients were asked to submit written pieces on their learnings and experience at #alsc20 to share with members and readers. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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