For the past seven weeks middle school students who participated in the Rockland After School Alliance (RASA) program Cooking Matters have been cooking up a storm. Each week, the participants worked with Chef Nancy Wood to create delicious healthy meals and learn food preparation, safety and cooking vocabulary. After each class participants went home with the ingredients for the day’s recipes to prepare at home with their families.
Students also worked with FoodCorps volunteer and nutritionist Genna Cherichello to make sense of the nutritional value of the dishes that they were preparing as well as become better acquainted with how to read food labels and make healthy food choices. Cherichello helped the students put their math skills to the test with the “Blubber Burger” project. During the exercise students selected a fast food restaurant meal and added up the total grams of fat. Students converted grams into teaspoons and measured the total amount in shortening, which they then spread on a hamburger bun. Thankfully the sandwiches were not eaten but they did provide a powerful visual reference for the students who might think twice about ordering their favorite fast food meal. The students went home with the recipe and ingredients for baked sweet potato fries.
A highlight of the Cooking Matters program was the students’ field trip to the Rockland Hannaford for a grocery store tour. At Hannaford the students learned the difference between buying by the pound verses buying by the package, and why cereal and other preserved packaged food is kept in the center aisles and fresh produce and meat are kept along the perimeter of the store. Each student went home that day with their favorite piece of fruit plus donated reusable grocery bags from Hannaford.
The Cooking Matters program is sponsored on a national level by ConAgra Foods and Walmart. The Good Shepherd Food Bank and Hannaford sponsor the program in Maine and have helped bring the program to RASA. Nancy Wood and Genna Cherichello volunteered their time each week to plan and teach the program alongside Youthlinks Program Manager, Josie Gates.
RASA is a program of Youthlinks offered in collaboration with RSU 13 supported by a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant from the Maine Department of Education. Youthlinks is a program of Broadreach Family & Community Services, a non-profit organization that has been serving the children and families of Waldo and Knox Counties since 1983. For more information concerning the Rockland After-School Alliance, please contact Youthlinks: 594-2221 or visit www.youthlinksonline.org/RASA.