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The Whole Plate: A Return to Real Food Review by Debra Brinkman

Jane Siemon
The Whole Plate
(608) 637-6445
500 E. Jefferson Street
Viroqua, WI 54665

The Whole Plate is a high school level Food and Nutrition course. The four units build on each other, and were originally intended to be used at a pace of one unit per year of high school. The focus is on real food, and the recipes reflect that. Organic produce is emphasized, as is the concept of buying locally.

If you purchase the complete program, you will receive four three-ring binders that each contain one unit. Each unit includes all of the materials you will need to teach the course, except the kitchen and the food! The main components are recipes, notes for the instructor to use in giving nutritional lectures, readings for the student to do, discussion questions for those readings and other materials to help you organize your class or determine grades. In addition, there are bonus mini-units: one on Wild Foods, the other on Nutrition for Pregnancy.

Each unit has fifteen days of assignments, which are intended to be used as two hour classes each day for three weeks. One day is a field trip. The other days all involve cooking plus either a nutrition lecture or discussion. Each week, there is a bit of assigned reading. Each unit also involves cooking a family meal at the end, and reporting on that. The readings are included in the program, so you do not need to go out searching for additional books.

Unit One: What is Food? This unit teaches about food preservation and some beginning cooking techniques. You study calories, proteins, carbs and fats, and the reading relates to diet and health.

Unit Two: Nourishment for People and Planet teaches more advanced cooking skills. Vitamin and Minerals are the focus of the nutrition segments, and the reading focuses on modern agricultural practices.

Unit Three: Why Organic? This unit gets into ethnic cooking. Lectures cover adolescent nutrition, but also things like understanding the various cuts of meat and how to use them. The reading is from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

Unit Four: The Spice of Life includes more ethnic cooking, along with cooking in college, and the use of a crock pot. The lectures discuss herbs and spices, and the readings focus on the modern Western diet and the food pyramid, and whether that is really the best way for us to eat.

This program is clearly designed for a classroom setting, but we found it very easy to adapt for home use. That involved a bit of experimenting. We seem to have hit a groove in Unit Two, where we are spreading the unit out over six to seven weeks. That means we are actively cooking two days each week, and we are doing the more classroom oriented materials on two or three days as well.

Each day in the plan includes a recipe (or two), and a more school-oriented assignment. We are doing the seatwork pretty much in order; but the recipes? Those we end up moving around a bit to make it work into our lives. For instance, one of the recipes in Unit Two is to make a Chocolate Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting. Instead of preparing that when it was scheduled, we are putting it off until next week when a younger sibling does have a birthday.

We are also encouraged to adapt the recipes to work with what is seasonally or regionally available to us, which is something I really appreciate. In Unit One, one of the recipes called for making grape jelly. We were able to obtain blackberries that week, so we found a blackberry jam recipe instead.

The nutrition lectures were far easier to implement than I expected. Essentially, we sat down, and I read the teacher notes aloud, pausing to discuss as appropriate.

At $400 for the complete curriculum, it does seem rather expensive. However, it is completely non-consumable, so you can use the materials over with each child in your family.

We especially enjoyed the recipes. I tend to think that some things, such as canning tomatoes, are just too complicated for my 14-year-old. Having that listed in here pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I discovered that my son is capable of far more than I gave him credit for.

If you already lean towards a "whole foods" lifestyle, or want to move that way, this could be an excellent way to help your teen take ownership of food choices, and it can help you to feel more informed about the food we eat. This is far more than a home economics credit, and it is something I am glad to own.

Product review by Debra Brinkman, Assistant to the Product Reviews Director, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, January, 2013