Thursday, March 22, 2012

Recipes, Tools of the Trade

written by: Patricia Ann Redihan, Extension Resource Educator (

We use a lot of recipes in our CCESC Nutrition Program.
With our participants who have physical or developmental challenges, we use quick recipes with few ingredients such as fruit salad, veggie English muffin pizzas and cheese quesadillas. Other groups make recipes involving more steps such as turkey tacos, ratatouille, baked chicken fingers and chili.

Food preparation activities are required in only one of our six class sessions, but we have participants cooking in every class. Cooking helps accomplish a number of results.

Cooking teaches basic food preparation skills. Despite the plethora of TV cooking programs, cookbooks and magazines, many adults don’t possess basic food skills. Food skills include reading a recipe, using a food label, taking food safety precautions, as well as actual food preparation. Anecdotal reports of people bringing ”take-out” to dish-to-pass parties, or pantry shoppers requesting frozen French fries instead of a bag of potatoes, suggest that many adults across demographic groups don’t have basic cooking skills or perceive that they don’t have the time to cook. Sometimes, people simply haven’t grown up in a household where someone cooked.

Integrating hands-on food preparation activities helps participants apply the key nutrition messages that we promote. For example, even after defining and discussing whole grains in class, the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guideline message: “Make half your breads and cereals whole grains every day”, doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to prepare whole grains or have never tasted them. In a recent class, we prepared two different brands of whole wheat pasta and ratatouille. The vote is still out on whether participants will prepare either of the pastas at home although, in general, both brands were well received. The ratatouille was a big hit, despite this not being the traditional season for ratatouille.

Cooking in our classes provides an opportunity to introduce unfamiliar foods. This can make all the difference between participants trying “new” foods or not. Recent examples include garbanzo beans, sweet potato fries and salmon patties. Buying less familiar foods, even touted as “good for you”, is too risky when food dollars are tight and you’re not sure how to prepare them or whether you will like their taste. Cooking in class reduces these risks and makes desirable behavior change more likely.

Food preparation activities in a nutrition class provide an additional bonus. They make all the difference in the class dynamics, especially when participants are given a choice of recipes. After asking participants what recipes they want to prepare in class, one can almost feel a new sense of belonging and ownership in the class. You can count on someone volunteering to bring in a favorite family recipe. With the caveat that the recipe may need to be tweaked to meet our Cornell recipe guidelines, we usually can incorporate their recipe into our class.

Do you have a favorite, healthy family recipe that you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you! (Sorry, we can’t do traditional desserts, but just about all else qualifies.) Contact Paddy Redihan at

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