Exploring Gluten-Free Cooking at Middle School

As awareness of the gluten-free diet has grown drastically, so has the availability of gluten-free foods, leading to a 37 percent rise in sales of gluten-free products during the last year. At East Islip Middle School, family and consumer science teacher Dani Franzese’s eighth-grade students collaborated with career development teacher Christine O’Connell’s sixth, seventh and eighth-graders to learn about this recent culinary trend and make gluten-free pizza together.

Working together for three days, the students learned various facts about gluten, including the type of foods that have gluten in them and the complications of gluten-intolerance disorders such as celiac disease. Enhancing the studies, paraprofessional Nadine Kurtz related personal stories about a family member who has had celiac disease for the past six years. The students explored the possible benefits of a gluten-free diet such as increased energy, lower cholesterol levels and regulation of the body’s digestive processes. “With gluten-free foods becoming so popular, it is important for all students to try new foods,” said Franzese.

“What an amazing learning experience this was,” said O’Connell. “My career development students Delaney Conlon, Robert Phillips, Jake Pipitone, Kelly Stupplebeen and Chris Wiebalck participated in engaging activities that allowed them to socialize and have fun while learning basic cooking techniques such as measuring, mixing and cutting. Alongside Ms. Franzese's class, they made their own gluten-free pizza crust and prepared their pizza with toppings like cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and sausage. On the students’ final day together, they indulged in their personalized pizza.”