By CHERIL VERNON
Thanks to a special grant, about 50 Washington Early Childhood Center parents have learned how to make healthy recipes from scratch that are relatively easy and fast to make for their families during monthly cooking classes led by local chefs.
On Thursday, Bella Sera Ranch chef Jack Kraatz demonstrated how to make a Roman-style chicken dish and sautéed squash and zucchini during a cooking class for the parents at Palestine High School’s new culinary arts kitchen located in the Career And Technology Education building.
“It’s been a wonderful program for us and the parents seem to enjoy the cooking classes,” WECC Principal Rhonda Herrington said.
The parents are able to sample the meal the chef demonstrates — and then through the grant — are able to take home all the ingredients needed to make the recipe for a family of four.
“All they have to add is salt and pepper — everything else is provided,” Herrington said.
The program started out of the 2010-2011 Texas Department of Agriculture grant project the school received for its Vegetable Soup Garden. The program was extended into a new project of bringing nutrition into the home for 2012-13 called “An Honest Look at Nutrition.”
“Studies indicate that one of every three preschool children is at risk of becoming obese,” Herrington said. “Educating our children and parents about the importance of nutrition is crucial to reducing these numbers.
“Our goal is to increase the interest, awareness, and appetite for healthy eating in both parents and students,” she added. “We recognize that our families live in a fast-food society where eating the right foods can be tough. We also believe that making smart nutritional choices for our children can reinforce lifelong eating habits and will help our children grow to their full potential.
“Parents with interest and enthusiasm for nutritional meals are more likely to convey those same attitudes to their children.”
WECC expanded its vegetable garden beds to grow some of the vegetables used in the cooking classes. The students plant, water, weed and harvest the vegetables grown.
“A different area chef demonstrates a meal each time,” Herrington said. “The mission of Washington ECC’s 2012-2013 Nutrition Project is to help our families take an honest look at their home-eating habits, with a view towards shifting those dietary tendencies.
“The project is designed to assist our families in acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and changed behavior necessary for nutritionally sound diets.”
At the start of the program, each parent was given an 18-piece cooking set to use with the program.
For Thursday’s class, Kraatz taught the cooking lesson, assisted by Brett Tidwell. Bella Sera Ranch owners Deborah Walston and Rebecca Cole assisted by serving the samples to the parents in attendance.
“It’s just a lot of fun for everybody and they learn to cook from scratch versus cooking from a box,” Herrington said.
For this particular recipe, Kraatz showed the parents how they can make substitutions that don’t take away from the meal.
For example, instead of the brochette ham called for in the recipe, they used bacon. Relish could be used instead of capers. And they also have choices — such as roasting a red pepper or buying it already roasted in the grocery store, or cutting up fresh garlic or buying it already chopped in a jar.
“It took us 25 minutes from time we started to finish this meal,” Kraatz noted to the parents. He also discussed how to safely handle chicken to avoid salmonella and bacteria.
The classes started in October with a beef stroganoff recipe.
“Some of the parents didn’t realize that you used sour cream to make the recipe,” Herrington said. “They’ve always cooked it from a box.”
In November, the parents learned how to make a Thanksgiving dinner.
“They learned how to make sweet potato casserole and how to cook a big hen,” Herrington said.
In December, parents learned how to make gingerbread and each took home a gingerbread kit to make with their children.
Now that the culinary arts kitchen at the high school is available, more classes are planned for the next few months.
“We did the first few classes at Northside, but we love the culinary arts kitchen here at the high school, it has a lot more room,” Herrington said.
Baby-sitting is provided for parents during the cooking classes.
Parent Mahogany Edwards — who has children ages 5, 6 and 11 — said she has enjoyed the classes.
“You learn different things to cook and how to try to cook things differently,” Edwards said.
Mom Jeanette Alaniz said the chefs have chosen recipes that are easy for parents to make at home.
“I love it. The recipes are easy to follow and they have lots of flavor,” Alaniz said.
Parent Amanda Pearson thought it was interesting to hear from the chef how to substitute items for what is called for in the recipes.
“It’s neat to learn how to substitute things and still get the same flavor,” Pearson said. “It’s really fun to go cook everything up and see if I can make it just as good.”