Healthy and Sane

Giving back with Cooking Matters

December 14th, 2011 · 21 Comments · giving back

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


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:


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.


Robin giving a tip about using cheese rind in soups:


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.


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



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!!


Meatballs post baking:


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.]


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


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 


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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21 Comments so far ↓

  • #1 - Ranjani

    Wow. I hadn’t heard of this program before but it sounds amazing. I would love to volunteer with them – maybe this is something I will do when I graduate since I am likely to be “funemployed” for a while =). Thanks so much for making me aware of this!

    • #2 - Elina

      I’ve had a lot of fun volunteering for them – you should definitely look into it! :)

  • #3 - Lara

    What an awesome organization! I’ve never heard of the program, but I’ve been looking for a food/hunger-related group to volunteer with, so I will check the Seattle area for this.

    I’ve recently started volunteering with an animal rescue group, and it’s very rewarding (and fun!).

  • #5 - Michelle

    Elina, this sounds like a fabulous volunteer organization and wonderful experience for you!

  • #6 - Jess

    Hey Elina – great post! Thanks for sharing your story about Cooking Matters!

  • #7 - inna

    i love your post ending with ” i love my life”. now that’s the stuff :)

  • #8 - Megan

    I have often thought about volunteering for Cooking Matters and will fit it into my schedule at some point. So happy you got the opportunity to do it and that you loved it. (I think Community Servings has similar volunteer opportunities if you haven’t looked into theirs yet.)

  • #10 - Meghan@travelwinedine

    This sounds amazing. I volunteer at the MSPCA and have also volunteered at the Women’s Lunch Place. It makes a huge difference in how I feel about life in general if I can give back a little!

  • #11 - Lauren at Keep It Sweet

    Looks wonderful, such a great cause!

  • #12 - Sacha

    This kind of experience would be right up my alley. I’m glad you were able to do something for the community and also for yourself!

  • #13 - kitchenbelle

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  • #14 - Cara

    What a cool program! That is exactly the way I would like to volunteer, when I have the time, someday.

    PS silken tofu might be becoming my new favorite ingredient. Cool to see it in that frosting!

  • #15 - lauren

    What an experience, and what a great organization. I didn’t even know organizations like this existed!
    I looked around for programs like this awhile ago, just to see if they exist in my state. There are some families out there who are getting their much needed assistance, yet they don’t really know how to shop/meal plan to get the most out of it. To me, the two should go hand-in-hand.

  • #16 - My 30 by 30 list | Healthy and Sane

    […] volunteer at least 12 times – 5 classes done as assistant volunteer at Cooking Matters program. […]

  • #17 - Sandra@foodieaffair

    I was blog surfing and came across your post on Cooking Matters. What a wonderful program. I immediately looked on their website to see if their program was offered near where I live (they don’t). I’ll keep checking back just in case they expand in the future. Thanks for sharing this information and enjoy your time with the program!

  • #18 - Elina

    Thanks for stopping by! Hope they come to your neck of the woods soon – it’s an amazing program! :)

  • #19 - Professional food photo shoot and DIY background boards | Healthy and Sane

    […] dream really – I attended a real professional food photo shoot!! You guys know I’ve been volunteering with Cooking Matters for a little while now (just finished another 6-week class as chef instructor and getting ready for […]

  • #20 - Rachel G.


    I came across your blog from the Cooking Matters Facebook page. I am the staff coordinator with the lead partner in West Virgina. It is always great hearing and reading such positive experiences from the volunteer’s point of view. Please continue writing about your experiences with Cooking Matters. We have to keep getting the word out there that childhood hunger is a problem in the United States and that Cooking Matters is a great venue to volunteer for. Thank you for all you do!

    • #21 - Elina

      Hi Rachel – thanks! I love hearing from other Cooking Matter affiliates. You guys do great work!!