Giving back with Cooking Matters

Have you ever heard of Cooking Matters? I just got back from my last class of the 6-week program and I really wanted to share my experience with you. Something tells me that you may be just as into it as I was! Smile

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So let me give you a super quick background on what they are (you can read more on their website!). Cooking Matters is part of Share Our Strength which has a mission that no kid goes hungry (this is an issue in the U.S. too!). The mission of the Cooking Matters program is to teach underprivileged families (at risk of hunger) how to cook healthy meals on a budget (all meals are under $10 for 4 people). The program consists of 6 weekly classes, which are arranged at different communities all over the country. Aside from a Cooking Matters coordinator, there is also a volunteer culinary instructor, volunteer nutritionist and volunteer assistant at each class (and a volunteer translator where applicable) who teach the Cooking Matters curriculum to the group of attendants. This is a national program so you can be one of these volunteers!!!

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You may remember that volunteering was one of my 30 by 30 goals. I was really excited when I learned about this program because it combined my passion for healthy food with my desire to give back. With a pretty unreliable work schedule (with last minute meetings and often late nights) I had a hard time committing to a 6-week program, but signing up as an assistant volunteer was literally the first thing I did after giving my notice!!

Ok, so let me give you a behind the scenes look into how the magic happens Winking smile

Each class is 2 hours in length. The team gets there about 30 minutes prior to prep and strategize. The very first picture above is of the bags assembled to give to each participant at the end of the class. Typically, they get a bag full of groceries that can be used to make the recipes learned that day in class. Today was the last class, so they got a bag with some “graduation gifts” which consisted of the class textbook with all of the nutrition information that was taught to them over 6 weeks (plus over 60 healthy recipes… some of which they’ve already made and loved!), a cutting board and a knife. We also organized all the ingredients that we needed for today’s recipes (as per above).

Cooking Matters coordinator, Mimi, culinary instructor, Robin, and nutritionist, Jenny – going over today’s class timeline prior to class:

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Once the class starts, we normally ask the participants whether they cooked last week’s recipes at home, how their kids/family liked it, etc, and then talk about what we’re going to cook this week. We have a very high rate of happy “customers” at home. Smile

Today we made turkey meatballs, veggie-full tomato sauce and since it was graduation after all – a chocolate cake! Party smile

The classes are very hands-on. We want all participants to be able to replicate the recipes at home so with the culinary instructor’s lead – together they make the recipes in class which we all taste at the end.

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Robin giving a tip about using cheese rind in soups:

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As an assistant, I was responsible for well – assisting the culinary instructor. Since the participants do most of the chopping and measuring, I was just there to make sure that the chef had whatever tools she needed, then I did the actual cooking part (watching what’s going on in the oven, stir-frying and cooking things on the stove-top as needed) and doing all the dishes. There a LOT of dishes but eventually you figure out a way to still be involved in the class and get those babies done on time! Smile

Tomato sauce full of veggies – onions, garlic, peppers, carrots:

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The toughest part for me was dealing with all the onions. There are onions in pretty much every Cooking Matters recipe!! Disappointed smile

Robin talking about using lean meats – like ground turkey breast which is 99% lean.

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Making meatballs (these guys are full of veggies too – carrots, onions, garlic and fresh herbs)

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While the food is cooking, the class nutritionist typically has the floor to discuss the day’s topic. Today we actually had a fun Cooking Matters trivia game, quizzing the participants on everything they’ve learned over the past 5 weeks. They did really well!!

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Meatballs post baking:

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Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce (and meatballs in the back)

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This cake turned out so moist and fluffy (and it was actually vegan!). The frosting was super simple and very delicious – a package of silken tofu blended with 12-oz of melted chocolate chips. It was smooth, creamy and everyone loved it!

Every class we also make fun fizzy drinks by combining seltzer water with a bit of juice. This is a great substitute for the typically very sugary carbonated drinks. [We actually did the math this morning and each can of soda has 1/4 cup of sugar!! No bueno.]

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Cheers to an awesome class and cooking healthy meals with love! Smile

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Since today was the last class, all the participants also took a survey. The class reviews were glowing. Everyone was so appreciative of learning how to make meals healthier, incorporating more fruits and veggies into their (and their kids’!) diets and learning how to shop smart for better-for-you ingredients (last week’s class was in a grocery store where we put all of those skills to use!). It was amazing reading all of this and I was so happy to be a part of this group’s healthier future! Open-mouthed smile 

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The next round of classes starts in January and I hope to get a spot as a culinary instructor. Whee!! Open-mouthed smile

Do you volunteer? Where, how? I want details! Open-mouthed smile If you’d like to get involved with Cooking Matters, click here.

PS – I was not compensated for my time with Cooking Matters or for writing this post. I LOVED being a part of the program so I wanted to share it with you! Ok, time to squeeze in a P90X workout before a fun blogger event. I love my life!

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