Tonawanda News

October 13, 2013

Cooking for a cafeteria

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Ask Edward Sampson if he’s a picky eater, and the Fletcher Elementary School fifth-grader laughs right out loud.

“That’s what my mom says,” he said with a grin.

Edward may be picky, but there’s at least one recipe he likes a lot. And the Sampson family of the City of Tonawanda hopes a lot of other people like it as well — because if they do, it could have a big payoff for Edward, his classmates and his school.

It started when Mandy Sampson, Edward’s mom and health and wellness chairperson of the Niagara Region PTA, heard about the Uncle Ben’s “Ben’s Beginners” cooking contest and thought it would be a great opportunity for the family to work together on a recipe.

“We enjoy cooking anyway. I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s try this,’” she said. The Sampsons developed a rice-based, kid-friendly recipe for “chicken and veggie surprise,” then visited the Fletcher cafeteria to film a video of Edward — who donned a chef’s hat for the occasion — and his mother creating their dish for the contest.

Now, the Sampson’s video is online at, part of a contest to win a $30,000 cafeteria makeover for Fletcher Elementary, as well as a prize for the family.

Mandy Sampson, who also works as a substitute teacher assistant, clerical worker and lunch lady at the school, said that Fletcher has what is likely the smallest cafeteria in the district. The space, once a pair of classrooms, is “wall-to-wall kids” during lunch periods and it can be difficult to keep everyone in view, she said.

The entire family took part: Mandy and Edward Sampson appearing in the video, older son William, 13, making a cameo and doing the editing, and father Jon doing the filming. Now they’re spreading the word, with notices at all the school buildings and a link on the City of Tonawanda website.

In addition, Mandy Sampson has started the process to eventually get the recipe served in cafeterias throughout district schools. No matter what happens, she said, she hopes the campaign brings attention to the importance of eating dinner together.

“If we win, that’s great. If not, we had a good time and I’ve stressed the importance for other families,” she said. “It makes me sad to hear kids say, ‘We don’t eat together at the table at all.’ This is a missed opportunity to come together as a family. All of us have busy lives. This is the perfect time you really can connect with a kid.”

Edward said the experience was “sort of fun.” While he acknowledged the principal would probably have the final say on what a new cafeteria would be like, he does have a few hopes. “I would want a really cool, awesome design. It would be great if it were bigger, so more kids could eat at once.”

Principal John McKenna said that Edward showed the sort of leadership skills the school wants to promote in its students.

“I hope it’s an example to other students who want to do project to support their school and their community,” he said. 

Voting at runs through Oct. 27.

TO VOTE • To vote for the Sampsons' video, visit and search for "Fletcher." Voting runs through Oct. 27.