From The Corps: Courtney Baldwin – Cooking Club at Alisal High School
Cooking club was the most endeared component of the HealthCorps programming at Alisal High School. Most of our students have had very little experience in the kitchen, with the exception of pouring cereal, so they were thrilled to receive culinary training (and of course to eat the free food at the end!). Our principal, Mr. Garcia, was incredibly supportive of the cooking program this year and he was willing to fund the ingredient supply for two afternoon sessions per week for the kids—thank you Mr. Garcia! On average, 15 students attended each cooking session to cook full flavor vegetarian dishes. We kept the club vegetarian because I wanted to expose my students to dishes that did not rely on meat for flavor. The kids learned the best ways to chop different fruits and vegetables, they learned to use the stove and the oven and how to use spices to make these dishes just as tasty as dishes they’ve eaten forever. One other goal of mine throughout the cooking club was to keep the cost of one serving of each dish to about $1.00 to stay in competition with the dollar menu at their favorite fast food places. I wanted to dispel the classic myth that healthy food is always more expensive. I have found that with a little time and creativity, you can often make much healthier food for less than what you’d pay at a fast food restaurant! Check out our cooking club blog where I posted all the recipes we made together! www.ahscookingclub.wordpress.com
One of the most popular meals we made was the sweet potato, spinach and black bean quesadilla. We boiled sweet potatoes in vegetable broth and then mashed them up with black beans, steamed spinach, cream cheese and a few spices. This mixture became the filling for the quesadillas—nearly cutting the cheese content of a classic quesadilla in half! We assembled them with whole-wheat tortillas, baked them in the oven and served them alongside salsa and freshly made guacamole. I love this recipe because it is a perfect example of how you can sneak vegetables into your favorite dishes and they will take on a whole new delicious flavor while keeping the integrity of the original dish! This was the first time many of my students had tasted sweet potatoes—and I can safely say only a few turned them down again.
One of the fun extra things we did in cooking club was show appreciation to teachers, because who doesn’t appreciate food!? The students learned to make a few different types of spiced popcorn, packaged it nicely with a note and hand-delivered them to their favorite teachers along with the recipe. This was a fun way of sharing with both students and teachers that tasty snack food doesn’t have to be full of chemicals and artificial food dyes!
My absolute favorite day of each semester was the last day of cooking club because we always held a “chopped” competition. “Chopped,” for those of you who haven’t seen it, is a show on Food Network where the contestants are given a basket of mystery food items that they must use in a dish of their creation. In our cooking club, students get into teams of 3 or 4 and are presented with a table of ingredients —they must use at least 5 ingredients to make their dish. This challenge is essentially the same challenge we all encounter each time we open our fridge to decide what to make for dinner; it is always a fun way to see just how comfortable the kids are with their new culinary skills. This final semester, there were 4 teams of students—one made peanut butter energy bites, one made a salad, one made a quinoa bowl with roasted vegetables and one made a twist on chilaquiles with roasted broccoli! I was utterly impressed with all of them but the quinoa bowl took the prize because it was so inventive!
While cooking club was beloved by the students, I also found it was my favorite aspect of programming. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with the students in small groups and get to know them well. I loved exposing them to new foods they’d never tasted before and watching their eyes light up when, to their surprise, they tasted good! I loved seeing them get more and more comfortable each week reading recipes and taking initiative with their tasks. And lastly, I loved sharing my love of food and cooking with these amazing, gracious, curious students. Thank you Alisal High School and HealthCorps for this opportunity!