Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thank You for Teaching Us Healthy Cooking, but You Could Use Some Help in the Dating Department

This year, I added a great new client to my class schedule- the Even Start program in Arlington, Virginia. Even Start is a national program that helps economically challenged families build literacy skills. It is designed to strengthen the child's education by helping the parent become self-sufficient in English language skills. At the Arlington branch, most of the clients are from Spanish-speaking countries. In addition to writing, speaking and reading tutoring, classes also encompass other life skills such as budgeting/math, managing a household and nutrition. In the fall, I began doing a monthly lesson on healthy eating/cooking on a budget.

The ladies in the program are so friendly and welcoming. As with my other classes, many already know how to cook quite well. Most of the women are eager to share techniques and tips for encouraging their families to eat more produce, as well as challenges they would like to conquer in the grocery store and the kitchen. One of our more recent classes was on choosing a better breakfast. A lot of the mothers are off to a good start, often preparing eggs and homemade tortillas before school. We talked about ways to incorporate more vegetables into this offering. Afterwards, we sampled something newer to most of the women- oatmeal.

Here's a peak at that lesson:

We took a peak at the labels on these items and evaluated their nutritional content. Marketing and false advertising were also discussed (hey! there's no blueberries in those blueberry Special K bars!). It was explained why starting the day with sugar is not the best way to go and how vitamins get into foods with no inherent nutritional content. (Here's a hint: They're sprayed on the food in the factory.)

Then, we looked at a more affordable, more nutritious and almost as convenient of an option: Oatmeal.

The class made a personalized version of this quick and nutritious breakfast. (Although the pictured products are organic, we don't focus on that.) You will notice that I busted out my mad Spanish skills in the recipe.

Oatmeal with Fruit and Cinnamon
Plain Oatmeal/avena molida ($3.79/42 oz. container; about $0.27/serving...1/2 cup dry)
Dried Fruit-raisins or cranberries/pasas ($3.99/24 oz container; about $0.17/serving)
Frozen Fruit (strawberries, blackberries, etc. see above cost)- can use fresh when in season
Apple/manzana ($0.75/depends on type; $0.37/serving- 1/2 apple)
Splash of Milk/leche
Cinnamon/canela ($1.67/container; $0.06/serving- 1 teaspoon)
Brown Sugar/azucar moreno ($1.29/box; $0.15/serving- about 1-2 tablespoons)...use a little less each time you make it
  1. Cook oatmeal with water according to package directions.  Add fruit as desired to oatmeal/water.  Sprinkle on cinnamon and brown sugar.  Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes. To thicken and enrich, throw in a splash of milk/cream as desired. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired.
Cost per serving-approx $1.20

The class recently practiced their new skills by sending me these amazing Thanksgiving cards. (I might have cried when I opened them.) My favorite one was that carrot in the center that read, "Thank you for teaching us the healthy cooking. Also, I hope that you find a good husband."

Hey, we've all got areas for improvement, right?


  1. AHAHAHA! Que precioso!! I LOVE those cards and rock on, Chef!

  2. I eat Giant Bran Flakes every morning thinking that I'll get 100% of the RDA of several vitamins and minerals as the package claims, but I wonder if these claims are independently verified.

    I would consider the comment about finding a husband from a cultural perspective.

    Speaking of dating, I'm now going to take a peek at Rachel's blog.