If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ve seen the tweets about my experiences this summer as a volunteer for the Cooking Matters program. This non-profit organization offers nutrition-based cooking classes to low income families in several communities. I helped at a site in East Boston and met an extremely diverse group of women with children of various ages. However, they all had one thing in common – they want their families to eat well.
What I really like about this program is the emphasis they place on practical skills. We talked about how to read nutrition labels and ingredient lists, how to plan meals and use leftovers, and how to find the best values at the grocery store. We shared stories about ways to introduce new foods to a family. And we cooked at least three recipes every week under the direction of the chef instructor and course coordinator, with the help of the course assistant. Everyone got a chance to peel, chop, grate, stir and saute. We used herbs and spices which were new to many participants. The chef instructor emphasized safe knife skills and taught everyone how to use a food thermometer.
I had no idea just how much I would learn myself. I enjoyed working with a professional chef instructor as much as the other participants! Here are the top 3 cooking tips I got from the class:
- When cutting fruits and vegetables, always create a flat surface to place face down on the cutting board. (This seems so obvious, and yet I struggle cutting onions the wrong way all the time.)
- After pressing garlic, rub your fingers on stainless steel to remove the smell.
- When measuring honey, coat the measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray and the honey will slide right out.
But the most important thing I gained is an awareness of the importance of access to good food. Many participants lived within walking distance of a single grocery store. We consistently emphasized using a variety of fruit and vegetables in class, but even some of the seasonal produce was quite expensive in this store. Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables are also a good option, but the selection is generally more limited. We talked a lot about overcoming these types of obstacles by creating weekly meal plans which take advantage of the best values and substituting items in recipes as needed. But my eyes were really opened to the issue of ensuring that everyone has access to high quality produce at affordable prices.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with Cooking Matters this summer!