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A pinch of learning and a dash of fun in community cooking classes

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Add in a few good cooks, a handful of volunteers and a willing bunch of participants and you have a recipe for success.

The gleaming commercial kitchen at the Wellington and District Community Centre is being put to good use with cooking classes geared to adults and children.

Linda Downey, of the Wellington and District Storehouse Foodbank, came up with the idea for the cooking classes bringing Glen Wallis, of Food to Share, on board.

The four-week, filled course continued on its second session Tuesday night, which saw chicken pot pie on the menu.

The children donned aprons and chef hats and learned how to make pie dough from scratch. The exercise was part education and part fun as the dough ended up almost everywhere – including on some of the children’s faces. Everyone got a chance to work on the meal and the children ate what they made, learning and having fun along the way.

A hands-on introduction on how to de-bone a chicken was included as one of the cooking instructors showed the children how pieces of fat and skin should be discarded.

“I don’t know if I want to do this,” said one child finding the handling of chicken “icky”.

In response, Downey asked, “How many here know how to make slime? As many in the group confirmed experience, Downey noted, “If you like playing with slime, you can play with chicken.”

Discussions followed the meal on who liked the chicken pot pie and why some didn’t. Some of the children didn’t care for the presence of carrots and onions.

Registered dietitian Sarah Sandham, from the Prince Edward Family Health Team, engaged suggestions on changing some of the ingredients to suit individual tastes. She asked what ingredients they would change, hearing that some would add corn, while others simply wouldn’t make it again.

Last week’s class, under the guidance of Wallis, learned how to make macaroni and cheese both from scratch and from the familiar store-bought box, in an exercise to compare the difference between the two versions.

“The home-made version was a hit as most of the children preferred it,” said Downey. “I’m learning as we go which kids will eat what – trying to get them to eat vegetables and trying to hide them in something,” said Downey.

“Everyone said they wanted chicken pot pie, but four of them didn’t like it. One didn’t like onion; one didn’t like celery, so you plan. We explained that you can put in corn and you can change it up with the veggies.”

With leftover pie dough from the chicken pot pie, the children made mini cinnamon rolls and once baked, were each able to take a few home.

The children cleared their own plates and cutlery and threw out any garbage as Downey explained how clearing away and tidying-up was part of the meal. “It’s part of being a cook,” said Downey.

In her role as registered dietitian, Sandham was on hand to provide nutrition education and information.

“It’s such a great cause to work with kids (and adults) to really just disseminate and share all my food and nutrition knowledge so that the young generations grow up to be healthier ones to prevent chronic diseases,” said Sandham.

“I had questions today from the kids asking about what diabetes is, and fantastic questions and learning about nutrition, where our food comes from and about different nutrients,” said Sandham. “The kids were pretty surprised to learn about fibre in raisins and vitamin C in bell peppers.”

The children and adults ask different questions.

“The kids are open to learning, and that’s the key age to get it as there is a lot of research showing that it’s more effective there and it’s passed on from generation to generation. The adults are already often living with different chronic conditions, so the nutrition in cooking can be to manage or treat those conditions whereas with the kids, we are focusing on preventing it before it even starts.”

The first adult class last week made quiche, salad and a talapia dish. Food to Share volunteers also made Shepherd’s Pie dinners and containers of mashed potatoes to donate to the foodbank.

Food to Share, formed by Wallis and wife Susan in 2015, is a grassroots initiative that addresses food insecurity in the County. The group takes food donated by various farmers and citizens and turns it into healthy, fresh food to be distributed through local County food banks.

“We work with both the Picton and Wellington foodbanks to make food – originally that was the plan,” said Wallis. “Two years ago, we got a grant from Stark Family Fund to do some research and come up with an outline for classes and it was a success.

“So this is kids now, we are doing teens next and we are trying to set up in Picton as well and to extend it, so that hopefully it will be closer to 100 people as opposed to a couple of dozen,” said Wallis.

Wallis is hoping the municipality will get behind the idea and support it by offering the use of its kitchens.

“Currently we have to pay $35 per hour to use the kitchens. Today we were here for 10 hours, so $350 is big and it’s unsustainable at this point,” said Wallis.

“We have 2,500 people in the County who are not getting access to food they need, a lot of them are children. The kitchen could sit empty when there are 180 volunteers on our list willing to come out. Today we had 16 people here and we produced over 400 servings of chicken pot pie, and it just begs the question why wouldn’t the municipality support it?” he added.

Wallis sees the Wellington Community Centre as a great venue.

“I’m sure if we had access to it, we could expand the program. If we had access to the arena in Picton, I’m sure we could do it two days a week and really it would be a great success,” said Wallis.

It was important to Downey to make the classes a night out for fun too.

“We told the parents if they [the kids] don’t eat, we are not forcing them as it’s an experiment and we wanted to have a night out in Wellington for the kids to have fun. Where can you go out and have dinner and fun without your parents? I think that’s part of what the attraction is.

“They all seem to like the class as they are coming back: some are picky, some are not. We are learning as we go.”

Next week, Sandham will be involved in the planning to create a healthy twist on a common dessert – brownies.

“We are going to do a black bean brownie and home-made pizza maybe with a whole-wheat crust and various toppings that are made with lots of veggies,” said Sandham.

The free cooking classes are open to all in the community with an interest in learning some cooking and nutrition basics, and will continue through February and March with separate sessions for teens and adults. Classes are filling up fast with registration limited to 15 spots for each class. For further information or to pre-register, call Linda Downey at 613-399-1450 or 613-849-7403 or email downeylinda45@gmail.com.

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