Monday, May 3, 2010

Uncommon Pantry—Common Problem…

by: Courtney Treutelaar

I input data into the Access computer program related to our programmatic activities. We use this data to then assess the culinary program and define our successes and areas of improvement. Much of this data is based on a survey that we give to the children on the first day of the program and the last day of the program. In Fall 2009 our survey asked if the children use the recipes in class while cooking at home. Malakye Hall responded, stating, “No, but I would like to”L. I don’t have the ingredients needed at home.

Malakye’s response caught my attention and I stopped what I was doing and noted this on a Post-it for me to come back to later. When I revisited this point I thought about the fact that although we try to measure how much the kids learn, we can’t measure their personal obstacles to actually reach the desired goal. This statement was Malakye’s voice and her attempt to be heard. She wanted to cook the recipes from class, but doesn’t have the means to do so. This is the problem for so many of the families who have children in our program.

As a child I certainly had a culinary interest and spent time in the kitchen. I had the interest and the means to whip up any strange concoction such as inedible “cakes” and palate “surprises,” from the vast array of my pantry. These kids don’t have the luxury of a stocked pantry to entertain their creative culinary minds. Keeping common pantry items such as flour and rice in their homes seems to be an unusual occurrence. As a chef instructor at Common Threads, I often ask, “Has anybody taken these recipes home and made them?” I typically receive a blank stare or endearing little faces shaking their heads no, a response that I was hoping to not receive. Unfortunately, I know why I receive this answer. They can’t. They simply do not have the means to do so.

A recent program improvement here at Common Threads has given me encouragement related to this common “pantry problem. One of our current priorities at Common Threads is to educate parents on the value of nutrition and to give them a “Common Pantry” starter kit which includes non-perishable food items like olive oil, red wine vinegar, canned tomatoes, pasta and various spices. Common Threads is dedicated to engaging parents and families alongside our students in hopes of building healthier, happier family units and, ultimately, healthier, stronger communities. As part of our comprehensive parent outreach initiative that began in the Fall of 2010, we have also invited the parents of our students to a meeting where they learn how to prepare a healthy, well-balanced meal and also receive important nutrition information. Our intent is that with this pantry and the nutritional information, we are providing the parents as well as the children a base to start cooking our healthy and affordable meals at home.

This is an important step in the right direction. I’m encouraged to hear recently from a child that she made homemade pasta at home from our Italy curriculum. Another child was proud that he served his mother Haitian chicken tenders, a new recipe this semester. I’m looking forward to receiving the survey data this spring and am hopeful that Malakye’s response served as an important lesson and that the responses in the survey are much different from the fall of 2009.

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