SPRINGFIELD — A chef from Inn at Weathersfield will teach a free cooking class in which each session is half nutrition, half active participation, and will include outings with the chef to local grocery stores.
“It’s very hands-on,” said Executive Chef Michael Ehlenfeldt, who was at the inn on Thursday, Sept. 22, tossing ingredients for fresh pasta. “The whole premises of the program is to help folks who are in need — to teach them how to cook, and why to cook.”
Ehlenfeldt is taking part in the community program in collaboration with Lara Peck and Sooyoung Uhm, both registered dietitians with Springfield Medical Care Systems (SMCS).
The program is being introduced for the first time in Vermont this fall, Ehlenfeldt said.
Springfield Area Parent Child Center (SAPCC) will introduce the new six-week program, “Cooking Matters,” with classes beginning in November. Participants do not have to already be affiliated with SAPCC, Ehlenfeldt said.
Ehlenfeldt also said he is hoping more people will sign up, as only five or six have registered so far, and he has room for 10-12 participants.
Part of the educational segment of the class is to help participants better understand why certain foods are good for them, to talk about the misconception that vegetables and fruits are too expensive, and other cooking topics such as why whole grains are healthy and some fast food is “horrible,” he said.
The hands-on cooking course and interactive grocery store tours will be offered free at SAPCC.
Black River Produce is also on board with the program, and will donate fresh ingredients for the cooking curriculum supplies, according to a press release from SAPCC.
Ehlenfeldt was one of the first instructors to teach this program in the Boston area, he said. In 1994-1995, the Cooking Matters program came to Boston, and the national director called Ehlenfeldt’s chef, asking him to teach the course.
“He was way too busy, and he handed me the phone and said, ‘Here, you do this!” Ehlenfeldt said.
More than 30 classes later, he is still teaching the 6-week sessions.
“So we’re bringing it to Vermont,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Cooking Matters serves families across the country through hands-on and mobile online educational tools. Participants will learn to “shop smarter,” use nutrition information to make healthier choices and cook delicious, affordable meals.
Ehlenfeldt said the first half of each class will be understanding nutrition, and the second half will be hands-on with his guidance in the SAPCC kitchen, a small kitchen scaled similarly to one that would be in a home. He will demonstrate food preparation, such as how to break down a chicken, how to cook swiss chard, and a wide variety of hands-on, how-to instruction. When participants come back to the next class, he plans to ask them for feedback on how they feel the experience went, preparing the meal at home, he said.
“If I can just get something positive out of it (for participants), it’s worthwhile,” he said.
The program was developed with five major guiding principles, according to the press release:
— Negative health and economic effects of hunger and poor diet can be avoided if families know how to shop for and prepare healthy, low-cost meals.
— Chefs are valued instructors because of their expertise in food preparation and budgeting as well as their creativity and energy.
— Those living on a low income deserve to enjoy their food as well – and need to know how to create food that is delicious, satisfying and healthy.
— Cooking and eating meals as a family is an important social activity.
— Volunteering, or sharing our strengths is a way to create community wealth.
“Community collaboration is critical to SAPCC, as we continue to provide wrap-around services to young children and families as we’ve done for nearly 25 years in North Windham and South Windsor counties,” SAPCC Executive Director Jill Rapanotti said, in the same press release.
“As federal and state funding slowly shrinks due to budget cuts, we look more and more to find ways to raise the funds needed to continue to meet the goals of our mission statement of ‘Strong Communities, One Family at a Time,’” she said. “In 2015, we served over 3,500 children and families in our service area through parent education, early childhood development, early intervention, home visits, child care referral and subsidy assistance, play groups and parent support groups.”
For more information or to register for the Cooking Matters classes, contact Rapanotti or Jan Zona, administrative / public relations manager, at (802) 886-5242, online at www.sapcc-vt.org, or through Facebook.