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April 09. 2013 5:09PM

Class Act: Milford seventh-grader cooks up a curriculum for healthy cooking


Twelve-year-old Lily Ayotte is the driving force behind an after-school cooking course starting soon for middle-schoolers in Milford. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER)
MILFORD -- Lily Ayotte likes good food. Healthy food. The kind of food a lot of kids her age would quickly trade for a bottle of soda and a bag of chips. And it's her love of healthy eating that has prompted Ayotte to create a new after-school cooking program at Milford Middle School.

Ayotte, 12, is a seventh-grader at the middle school and last year, as part of one of her classes, she was challenged to come up with a way to encourage either physical activity or good nutrition.

"I was thinking about my school, and we have a lot of physical activities available to kids," she said. "But we don't have any classes that teach healthy cooking."

Though cooking is taught at school, Ayotte said kids usually end up making cookies or other simple - and sweet - dishes. What kids aren't learning is how to cook foods without a lot of sugar or extra calories, she said, so she decided she wanted to offer her own cooking class.

To get started, Ayotte reached out to her principal, Anthony DeMarco for permission to have such a class after school. DeMarco gave her his blessing, and from there, she began building a curriculum plan that includes bringing in guest chefs from local restaurants, working closely with students from Milford High School's restaurant, Windows on West Street, and even developing a cook book with help from her art teacher.

"We're going to ask kids to design the cover for the book," said Ayotte. "One lucky kid will have their art be the cover on my book."

"This has been a huge undertaking," said Ayotte's mom, Wendy. "There are a lot of people involved and everyone's been very supportive."

To fund the program, Ayotte has applied for a grant from an organization called Fuel Up to Play 60, a joint venture by the National Dairy Council and the NFL to promote healthy eating and to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. If she secures the $4,000 grant, Ayotte will begin offering the classes to students, parents, even community members, later this year.

Her goal is to get kids into the kitchen, teach them some basic skills, and share some of her favorite recipes for nutritious snacks.

"I love to cook and Lily has been cooking beside me since she was around six years old," said Wendy. "She started with a butter knife and simple things, but now she's free in the kitchen. She's got skills."

She has also begun collecting recipes from local restaurants and has been able to convince a local pizza shop to donate whole-wheat pizza dough, sauce and cheese to make pizzas in class - but with a healthy twist.

"I'm going to teach kids about vegetables they've never tried before like kale and get them to try something different," she said.

Veggie nachos, fruit smoothies, homemade salsa and other basic healthy snacks are at the top of Ayotte's list. "I rock the smoothies," she said.

Here are two of Lily Ayotte's recipes:

Sunshine Smoothie

1/3 cup each of frozen strawberries, mango chunks and peach slices

1 banana

1 cup orange juice

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend well, until smooth. Pour into two glasses and enjoy!

Yummy Hummy Hummus Dip

15 oz can of chick peas (also called garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 Tbs. lemon juice from half a fresh lemon

3 cloves of garlic minced

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until really smooth. You can also make the hummus more tasty by adding another ingredient like an avocado, or some roasted red peppers. Scoop up the hummus with veggies cut into sticks (I like cucumbers, baby carrots and snow peas, but any veggies will work) or pita chips. Even if you haven't tried one of these foods, I bet you'll like them all together!

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