When teaching kindergartners about celebrations around the world, one thing tends to come up: Food. On Tuesday, in their study of Cinco de Mayo, Randi House and Nathan Howse brought their kindergarten classes at Theodore Jones Elementary together to make salsa and guacamole.

While the activity was fun and the food tasty, the experience was nothing new. Nathan and Randi have been using food to teach their students since October 2012. Their recipes have included pumpkin soup, ice cream, corned beef and cabbage and even a full Thanksgiving meal.

"Kids, you can catch their attention when you’re talking about food or when you’re serving food," Nathan said to the Conway Public School Board of Education earlier this month.

With about 40 students between the two classes, 10 to 12 receive food from the backpack program, which sends food home with certain children to make sure their nutritional needs are being met over the weekend.

The "cooking show" started by making meals once or twice whenever applicable, but as the students gravitated toward the lessons the concept grew. As it grew, Randi and Nathan realized the lessons cover 13 Common Core standards and teach lifelong skills.

"Before we knew it, it was such a powerful tool that we knew we couldn’t stop doing it," Nathan said.

Even with 40 kindergartners working on one lesson for over an hour, distractions are limited because every student wants a chance to chop an onion or squeeze a lime.

With their Cinco de Mayo food lesson, Randi read the book "Chicks and Salsa" before Nathan helped introduce their ingredients. The students learned about avocado, cilantro, garlic and kitchen tools as they went in groups to help get the ingredients ready to eat. Some sliced tomatoes with a plastic knife, others mashed avocado for the guacamole.

At each seat, students who were not participating in the food prep were able to draw ingredients on a recipe sheet. At the end of the year, each student will have a cookbook with their drawings and recipes to take home with them.

Once the salsa was blended and the guacamole was mixed together, each kindergartner got to taste their snack.

"You don’t have to eat it. You don’t have to like it," Nathan said to the class. "But we encourage you to try it."

Some smiled and some grimaced as they tried something new, but each student found they liked something on the plate.

Before these lessons, some students had rarely seen a meal cooked in front of them, Randi said. Many eat pre-packaged meals or fast food at home, and some did not know you could use a knife to slice something like a tomato.

Now that the concept has taken off, the teachers are planning to plant a "kinder-garden" to grow their own food for the cooking lessons.

"They’ll get to learn from the seed to the actual meal," Nathan told the school board. "I think with our kids it’s a big deal to see something from start to finish that they have a hand in."

(Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached by email at angela.spencer@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1212.)