Senior Foods: learning how to cook and eat well before graduation


Photo by Ryan Rong

As Naperville North High School’s class of 2023 nears graduation day, many are preparing for a more independent lifestyle. North provides many life skill-based classes to aid students in their transition into more independent living. One of these courses is Senior Foods. A popular course among students, Senior Foods is a semester-long, senior-only class that teaches not only cooking skills, but the value of nutrition, cooperation and community. 

In the beginning, some of the skills, such as learning how to handle cooking equipment and raw ingredients safely, were initially a daunting task for some. However, these lessons proved to be rewarding for many seniors like Benjamin Pawlisz, who entered the class with minimal cooking experience.

“I only really knew how to make food in the microwave or eggs. But after senior foods, I understand how to use a variety of different ingredients and I have a lot more knowledge on how to make a bunch of different dishes,” Pawlisz said.

Beyond learning individual culinary skills, Senior Foods requires collaboration and communication for students to be successful. Students are placed in groups of three to five to cook all projects and oftentimes, students are placed into an unfamiliar group of peers. The nature of the class reinforces new connections and teamwork, creating bonds that stretch beyond the kitchen.

“I think that me and my group really have bonded throughout the year. On the first day, we hadn’t really talked during the labs or when we cooked, but now we’re talking as friends,” Pawlisz said.

Additionally, Senior Foods not only teaches seniors how to cook, but better understand how to eat a well-balanced diet. Through this, senior Asim Zubair learned the importance of nutrition in eating and making meals.

“Senior foods has taught me a lot about how to cook stuff and what goes into our bodies, like nutritional facts, that’s what they teach us as well, not just how to cook the food,” Zubair said.

By the end of the course, many say they feel accomplished both in the kitchen and holistic learners. For some students, Senior Foods was somewhat of a “wake-up call” for the responsibility needed for life after high school. Zubair feels he gained the necessary experience to take care of himself in the future.

“I always thought that I would need to know how to cook for college. It was eye-opening to start learning how to cook for myself because I can’t always have someone to do for me,” Zubair said.

For others, Senior Foods has uncovered a new interest. Pawlisz says he hopes to continue his culinary endeavors in college.

“I do see myself pursuing it as a hobby. There are definitely skills that are going to be very useful in college, and I would like to continue using them,” said Pawlisz.

Both students and teachers find the fun and liveliness of the class in the experimental nature of recipes, ranging from desserts such as meringue cookies to meals such as fajitas, covering a whole spectrum of sweet, spicy and savory. Senior Foods teacher Ms. Hillyer says each class period brings new lessons and ways to improve the recipe going forward.

“When we’re baking, we could have things go unexpectedly awry during that, and so that we definitely learn from it and we’re able to see what other peoples’ baked goods look like and how we could’ve changed how we were doing [it],” Hillyer said.

For NNHS juniors planning to take the class next year, Hillyer says to expect to learn new life skills and a high note to end their time at North with. 

“No matter your skill level with cooking, you could absolutely take it so you’ll definitely learn something new about cooking, about food, about working with others, and really feel good when you graduate,” Hillyer said.