One Class, One Day: Healthy Cooking on a Budget
Learning the recently lost art of home cooking
Laura Judd stands in front of 18 hungry students; between them is a counter with some raw chicken, frozen green beans, garlic, and olive oil. In the next hour, the students will learn to cook chicken five different ways. They will discuss flavor profiles, meat thermometers, how to grow herbs, and where to find the best price for chicken this week. Welcome to Healthy Cooking on a Budget, a physical development program class offered by FitRec and designed by the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center (SCNC) that teaches students what they need to know to feed themselves (and maybe a hungry roommate or two) well.
In the span of 12 weeks, students in the one-credit, one-hour course learn basic nutrition, pantry essentials, how to schedule meals throughout the week with only one trip to the grocery store, and how to cook such things as brown rice and citrus tilapia. “In the SCNC, we were telling students about all of these healthy ingredients, but many kids didn’t even know how to find them in the grocery store,” says licensed dietitian Judd (SAR’07), a nutritionist at the center. “The amount of marketing that goes towards unhealthy foods is staggering, and this class tries to clear up confusion and show students that they can make tasty meals that are both healthy and inexpensive.”
Judd is approachable, encouraging, and gregarious. Thin and athletic, she is quick to share kitchen shortcuts (use bottled lemon juice instead of the rind, for instance) and where to find the best deals (Trader Joe’s, many times). She also tells her students that healthy home cooking does not need to fall by the wayside when life gets busy. As she talks, Judd begins to prepare her garlic rosemary chicken and green bean dish. She arranges the chicken in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil, a little bit of garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Students gather around to watch as she explains exactly why she does what she does. The aroma of chicken soon fills the classroom.
Judd’s class, and similar classes at the University of New Hampshire and Northeastern University, fill a void that opened when home economics classes disappeared from most curricula a generation ago. That loss, combined with the slim chance that students will learn to cook from family members, has spawned a generation of women and men who lack a valuable life skill.
“It’s important to have outlets like these courses, because they give young people independence and skills that will last a lifetime,” says food anthropologist Rachel Black, an assistant professor in Metropolitan College’s Gastronomy Program. “There is also more interest in food and cooking now because of blogs, TV shows, and the media in general. Young people are starting to think that cooking is cool.”
The skills and knowledge of Judd’s students vary widely—some bring culinary expertise, while others don’t know how to boil water for pasta. Most students are upperclassmen who recently moved to an apartment and would like to have better skills in the kitchen. The class has been offered for five semesters and has grown so popular that it now has two full sections.
The course covers smart shopping: using coupons and taking advantage of weekly specials, stocking up when there is a sale, and learning how to buy produce. Judd writes the prices for chicken locally on the big white board in the front of the class: Perdue chicken is $5.69 per pound, organic free-range chicken is $7.50 per pound, and Shaw’s has chicken on sale this week for $1.99.
“I love food—both learning about it and anything that helps me to make it, and so I love this class,” says Dorothy Malcolm (SHA’13). “Last week we talked about the importance of eating whole grains and reading nutrition labels. And any class where you get to eat lunch at the end is great.”
Molly Meehan (SMG’13) says she’s recommended the class to several friends. “I never would have attempted to make butternut squash,” she says. “But we learned in class a few weeks back and now I make it all the time.
“There is definitely a need for a class like this,” says Judd. “There’s a lot of nutrition information out there, but also a lot of people who aren’t eating healthy and are overweight. With this college population, we have an opportunity to teach students the skills that will set them on the right path for the rest of their lives.”
It’s a lesson that is reinforced at the end of each class, when students get to eat the fruits of Judd’s labor.
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