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Rieke third-graders make a meal out of worms

Parent and science educator Jamie Repasky leads lesson on the benefits of eating bugs


Everyone knows that a good chocolate chip cookie takes flour, baking soda, salt, vanilla, eggs, sugar and of course, chocolate chips. But in a science lesson at Rieke Elementary School last month, a group of third-graders had the chance to munch on a chocolate chip cookie with an additional ingredient: mealworms.by: PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHARINE KIMBALL  - A third-grader at Rieke Elementary School prepares to sample a chocolate chip cookie baked with mealworms.

The unusual fare came as part of a science lesson taught by Jamie Repasky, a Rieke parent and former instructor at the American Museum of Natural History hired by the Rieke PTA as a science enrichment coordinator two days a week, “facilitating science based professional development sessions for the teachers and co-teaching outdoor science lessons with each grade,” she said.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHARINE KIMBALL  - Jamie Repasky, a parent and Yale-educated scientist, leads a lesson on the health benefits of eating bugs.When Rieke’s third-graders read an article about bugs as food in an educational magazine, Repasky said, their teachers asked her if she might be “interested in following this thread,” and after doing some research online, Repasky said, “I had enough information to lead this enrichment and had made a collaboration with Rainbow Mealworms in California for this project. They donated 5,000 live mealworms for this educational session.”

Beyond securing mealworms, Repasky and her students did a lot more to prepare for the lesson. Repasky, for her part, had to obtain an Oregon food handler’s license, which involved a short online class, a test, and a $9 fee.

“The main point of the license,” she explained, “is to educated people to wash their hands, cook food to the recommended temperature, and maintain a clean cooking environment.”

The third-graders, meanwhile, had help from Repasky to ready themselves for this unorthodox and unfamiliar experience.

“We started by discussing fears of invertebrates and the students were able to talk and write about their fears and link it to different fear factors — fear of danger/health, fear of surprise, fear of difference,” Repasky said. “We then reviewed the points from their Scholastic article which mentioned the environmental benefit to eating bugs. The students learned about how, as a farmer, you have to budget the 'energy units' needed to produce a 'unit of protein'. That included food, water, space to move or sleep, air, and time. For an insect, it only cost 4 energy units (e.u.) to produce 1 unit of protein. For cows, it costs 54 e.u. to produce 1 unit of protein. At the end of the lesson we discussed that they would have the option to try bugs as food next week and they discussed their questions and predictions on what the mealworms would taste like.

“The second teaching session was right before the tasting where we reviewed the points from the week before and allowed the students to ask questions before the bug tasting. I knew that some students would be nervous about eating bugs so I provided a 'bug-free' option of black rice with celery — which really looks likes ants and worms.”

After Repasky finished this second lesson, the third-grade students formed a line and waited to be served the dish of their choice: the rice, cookies with mealworm ground up inside and indistinguishable or cookies with mealworm baked in plain sight, right on top.

“Overall, I saw so many students who were thrilled that they tried bugs as food and realized that it did not taste awful,” Repasky said. “Most of the students said that the roasted mealworm tasted like nothing.”

And a few students found the cuisine not just edible, but altogether palatable.

“Have you tried the cookies yet?” one student asked her classmate. “They’re really good.”by: PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHARINE KIMBALL - Two third-grade students take their first tastes of the mealworm cookies.

Repasky said her goal with this lesson was not just filling the third graders’ bellies, but also opening their minds.

“I was hoping that the lesson opened discussion to the students fears and worries about invertebrates and opened their eyes to other cultures' food options,” she said. “In both classes we had a discussion about different protein options in other cultures and even in our human past. It was great to see the student talk about how much of each animal do we really use in our culture and even with the vegetarian option, how much land would we need to sustain our population. As part of the session we did discuss the most humane way to kill a bug for harvest — freezing; they fall asleep and eventually their body dies — but it also brought up other students' experiences with farm life, harvesting goats or chickens.”

Plus, Repasky added, “The students were able to practice some of their life skills such as personal best, common sense, flexibility, courage and friendship.”

Drew Dakessian can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 108.