Sea Crest School teachers and staff dined with ceramic dishes, real silverware and linen napkins at lunchtime on Sept. 19. It made for a pretty presentation, but eighth-grader Jaye Mindus also values the practical.

“I wanted to think of something more eco-friendly,” said the aspiring chef, who has helped develop Sea Crest’s first independent study program, with the support of teachers and parents from the Sea Crest community.

Throughout the year, Mindus plans to prepare meals, at least monthly, for the school staff. Her homemade lunches will cut back on packaging waste and boost her creativity, while allowing her the chance to shine.

“I’m not that athletic. Student council? I probably wouldn’t have gotten into that. I wanted to get into the school and community more.”

The girl can cook.

Mindus’ debut luncheon started with the crisp, green taste of fresh lettuce, complimented by a walnut’s crunch and apple cider vinegar dressing’s tang. Flavors rounded out with a hearty vegan chili, with optional cinnamon-sprinkled sour cream stirred in, and concluded with sweet, chewy cookies and cut fruit for dessert. Ice water, flavored with slices of peach and pear, accompanied the meal.

“I like to do things with lots of flavor, but still subtle,” said Mindus.

The chili recipe comes from a Canadian cookbook given to her by her grandmother.

“She’s basically Wonder Woman. She can do anything,” Mindus said of her grandma, who first inspired her to start cooking two years ago.

Since then, Mindus has taken her skills to the chopping board, preparing multi-course meals for her family of four a couple times a week.

“It’s got to be a complete dinner. It can’t just be mac and cheese,” said Alice Engelmore, Sea Crest’s art teacher and Mindus’ mom.

Mindus hopes that her combined culinary and business savvy will one day win her scholarships so she can go to a boarding school for high school.

Parent and teacher volunteers like Carlean Gharpurey and Leslie Geller provided Mindus with a kitchen to cook in and helped with food assembly, but Mindus is responsible for planning the menu, budgeting ingredient costs, calculating food quantities and multitasking in the kitchen to get food on the table.

Mindus encourages teachers who join her for lunch to donate $5 to help cover the cost of ingredients. About 75 percent of the proceeds go to the school, which Mindus credits for having taught her so much. The remaining 25 percent will be donated to other local organizations, like Coastside Hope.

At the end of the year, Mindus will compile the recipes she’s prepared in a cookbook, which she plans to auction off to bring in more money to the school.

Mindus designed the program alongside teacher Petra McKown, who serves as her faculty advisor.

“She’s our pilot,” said Mc-Kown. “This is the first time we’ve ever done something like this.”

At first, Mindus wanted to make meals for the entire school, but she was limited by the oven and cooktop space she has to work with and health regulations.

Undaunted, Mindus pushed forward with her plan and decided to start by offering meals to the staff.

“You have to start small with big ideas,” said McKown.

Mindus’ autumn menu will include seasonal items like pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. Although she has no dietary restrictions herself, she intends to always offer menus that cater to vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

What will become of the leftovers?

“Dinner,” said Mindus.

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