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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Groups worked on making ground turkey tacos and fruit smoothies during Wednesday's class.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Spanish speaking parents of Dr. Crisp Elementary School students gathered Wednesday for a cooking class featuring help from University of New Hampshire students.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Participants were presented a lecture on the food pyramid before cooking started.
Thursday, April 7, 2011

City elementary parents taught to cook

Michael Brindley

The aroma of turkey and beans sizzling on the stove filled the small teachers conference room at Dr. Crisp Elementary School. Parents shuffled around the room, finding the ingredients they needed to complete the meal.

“The only thing that’s missing is the hot sauce,” joked Maria Rodriguez, a parent at the Nashua school.

Behind her, Jose Santiago, a parent of five, diligently chopped tomatoes on a table, while others were cutting up lettuce and cilantro. They are part of a group of parents cutting their cooking chops in the school’s first “para adultos” program. The goal, said organizers, is to give parents skills to cook meals that are not only nutritious but also affordable and creative.

The group of roughly a dozen parents meets every Wednesday morning for the six-week course. This was the third week of the course, and the parents were busy making turkey tacos and fruit smoothies.

The program is a partnership between Cooking Matters and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. All of the food and ingredients are provided as part of the class. There was a spread of vegetables on a table in the back of the room. Beets, sweet potatoes, radish, rhubarb and fennel were among the offerings.

Becca Story, coordinator of Cooking Matters, said the hope is for parents to try something new that could be incorporated into their cooking at home.

“A lot of folks won’t purchase something unfamiliar,” Story said. “They’re learning these things in class, but they can also apply them at home.”

Parents Cean Lamper and Amanda Soucy were running the smoothie station. Their latest creation was a combination of pineapple, vanilla yogurt, bananas, cinnamon, frozen strawberries and almond extract. It was clear it was a hit, as parents and teachers tried the final product.

“I’ve made my own smoothies, but this has given me some great ideas,” Lamper said.

In the first two weeks, the group has whipped up everything from carrot pineapple muffins to banana quesadillas.

Grace Tavares, the school’s home relations coordinator, said students are too often coming to school not having had breakfast. Those who have had breakfast often have had only cereal or a Pop-Tart.

“When they come in here and they’re hungry, they can’t concentrate,” Tavares said. “This shows the parents things that are healthy, quick and not expensive.”

The parents started out class Wednesday with a review of the food pyramid. Soucy said one of the things she’s taken away from the food lessons has been the importance of fiber in a balanced diet.

Awildo Muniz, education program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Nutrition Connections Program, has been working with third-graders at Dr. Crisp and the city’s other low-income schools for the past seven years.

Typically, she has worked only with the students. This is the first time she has taught parents how to cook, as well. Muniz said there is enough demand to support a second larger class in the fall.

“There’s a big interest in learning how to cook and how to eat healthy,” she said.

In the fifth week of the program, the parents will venture out to a local grocery store, where they will be given a challenge: purchase a meal to feed a family of four on $10 or less. Story said one of the common misconceptions she finds among parents is that children shouldn’t help with the cooking. To the contrary, Story said involving children in the preparation of a meal can bring the family together and help children learn to cook.

Santiago, speaking through a translator, said he wanted to take the class so he could know his way around the kitchen better. Right now, Santiago said most of his breakfasts consist of just scrambled eggs. He wants to broaden his culinary horizons. Rodriguez wants to learn more about American cuisine.

Copies of the recipes were available in Spanish and English. Parents were given cookbooks to take home, which had recipes donated from school volunteers from across the country.

The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph. Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or