January 4, 2013

Building Healthy Communities' healthy cooking classes for teens featured in Plain Dealer

Building Healthy Communities, which supports and empowers Cleveland residents to address quality of life concerns, is currently providing free cooking classes to moms, teens and children in the city’s Central and Kinsman neighborhoods. Developed to support healthy eating habits and teach ways to prepare healthy meals and snacks, the classes typically run Tuesday afternoons for four weeks.

Recently, The Plain Dealer featured a Building Healthy Communities Teen Chef Class in an article, which also includes a video interview with Building Healthy Communities Director Sharon Glaspie. The text of the article is included below.

Building Healthy Communities is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

As seen in The Plain Dealer:

Cleveland kids learn how to cook, eat healthy

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Tamyra Whittsette wanted to make sure she sliced an onion just right.

At first, the onion was bigger than the sixth-grader's hands, but as she cut into it, she trimmed the vegetable into thin pieces on a cutting board.

"Am I doing it right?" she asked an instructor. When the instructor nodded in approval, the 11-year-old Anton Gridna student grinned and kept on slicing.

Tamyra and nearly a dozen other young girls from the Ward 5 neighborhood have been learning about healthy eating as part of "Teen Chef," a four-week cooking class for youth at the CornUcopia Kitchen on Cleveland's East Side. Last week, the class completed its second week.

CornUcopia Place, the community kitchen on Kinsman Road, is a part of a fresh food production center that opened this fall. The center was created as part of a five-year, $759,000 federal grant, awarded to Burten, Bell and Carr Development Inc. to help eliminate food deserts in inner-city neighborhoods.

The area is considered a food desert because many residents who live in the ward have to travel more than a mile to find a fresh-food grocer. The food center also includes a neighborhood cafe and cold-storage facility where local gardeners rent space to store produce. Next year, employees will begin to operate a mobile food truck and sell fresh fruits and vegetables to the elderly and people in the neighborhood who don't have transportation.

The children's class is organized and funded by Building Healthy Communities, a part of the Sisters of Charity Health System that teaches people about healthy lifestyles. It is one several cooking demonstrations held at the community kitchen every week.

In the cooking class, Tamyra learned how to julienne vegetables and use them for taste. In a previous class, she learned how to properly peel a garlic clove and used it to help season ground turkey for burgers. She said she wants to be a chef when she gets older.

"I heard about the class at the library so I asked my mom if I could go," Tamrya said. "I know how to cook hot dogs, but I want to learn . . . how to really cook."

Sharon Glaspie, director of the program and cooking instructor, said teaching young people how to cook healthy meals can help fight childhood obesity and diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Many of the meals are simple and child friendly. The children have learned to make meals such as tacos, pasta and turkey burgers. The classes are also free to children.

"The key is keeping them engaged but also showing them different ways to eat foods they are familiar with," Glaspie said.

Though the class last week was filled with young girls, previous classes were filled with young men who wanted to learn how to cook, Glaspie said. A boy peeking into the kitchen last week said he was there for the class but didn't want to go in because "there were too many girls inside."

During the instruction period, Glaspie taught the students how to make chicken tortellini and a fresh vegetable salad with light dressing.

She started by showing the students a pile of vegetables: red peppers, fresh greens, broccoli, onions and mushrooms. Then whole wheat pasta, which she told them is more healthy than eating regular pasta.

Glaspie gave each girl an assignment.

A few cut vegetables, another pair greased a pan and simmered veggies under her instruction. Another boiled the pasta and another collected unused portions of vegetables to be used in an outdoor compost pile.

Katrina Smith, 12, a seventh-grader at Anton Gridna, said she liked working on the food with her friends.

"I'm going to have to learn how to cook for myself one day, so I need to learn how to make good food," Smith said.

Felisha Parrish, 20, of Cleveland, who works with Glaspie and assisted some of the girls, said many are exposed to fast food combos or microwave meals and many foods that are not healthy.

"They are learning how to eat healthy without realizing it," Parrish said. "This is something they can take home with them and show their families."

When the meal was prepared, portions were served to the junior chefs and Glaspie asked them to describe the tastes and flavors of the dish as they sampled the tortellini.

Glaspie mentioned to the students the group didn't use much salt and instead used spices and herbs to flavor the dish.

Then she discussed the salad with the girls, noting they should make their salads colorful so they can be exposed to antioxidants. Glaspie asked what other things they could have included instead of cheese or bacon bits, and one girl suggested adding cucumbers.

"That is a great choice," Glaspie said in excitement.

Many of the class participants said they liked the meal, but only a few delved into the salads.

Raynalle Guerry noticed the red peppers, and noted that she had never tried one before last week. But then the 14-year-old, who also attends Anton Gridna, picked through her salad to remove them.

"I don't like them, they taste strange to me," she said. "Everything else is good, just not those peppers."

Above photo: Raynalle Guerry, 14, center, laughs with friend Sharhonda Lewis, 12, far left, as they prepare Chicken Alfredo inside the CornUcopia Kitchen in Cleveland.

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