By Cristina Janney
Newton Kansan
The smells of simmering chili and the snap of fresh vegetables on the cutting board filled the small kitchen in Youthville cottage.
The girls from this cottage are mostly older. Many have been in the system a long time, and some soon will age out of the system, said Micala Gingrich-Gaylord, Youthville Expressive Arts Center supervisor.
Last year, Gingrich-Gaylord and local caterer Claire Williams came up with the idea to conduct the Creative Cupboard Cooking Class for some of the girls at Youthville.
“I had a girl tell me she thought beans were just for craft projects,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “I began to understand the disconnect the kids had about where their food came from and how it was cooked.”
Youthville won a grant from the Women’s Community Fund to support the program.
The class is structured so the girls learn to make meals using foods from the Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which also is known as WIC.
Lessons on food budgeting, as well as nutrition, are important parts of the program, Ginrich-Gaylord said.
“The idea is that everyone at some time has to come up with a meal from what is in their cabinet,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “We are using foods from the WIC list – canned and frozen foods. They have opened it up to allow for some fresh vegetable now.”
During the girls’ first class, they had to guess the price of certain foods.
Later in the course, the girls will be given fake money and asked to develop their own menus.
Ginrich-Gaylord also is trying to teach the girls about the nutrition.
“We are showing the difference between fresh, frozen and canned,” she said.
Although many of the girls in the class had experience cooking, few had experience with the fresh vegetables their teachers brought to the table.
Picking out the vegetables was only the first step. Several of the girls said they learned the proper use of knives and that highly coveted secret – how to cut an onion without tears.
Williams incorporated zucchini and hominy into the girls’ southwestern-style chili.
“We are making chili with hominy, I never knew what hominy was,” one of the girls said.
The girls made stir fry their time out.
“The stir fry was good,” I never had anything cooked like that before,” Alex, one of the girls in the class said.
The girls eat their meals together with staff. Williams said completing a meal can be reward in itself.
“First and foremost, I think it is rewarding to prepare a meal for others and yourself. It also is more economical. I have given them menus that some day they can do for their kids and families. They can do this. It’s an easy and affordable way to do this.”