Janice Irvine Meek and Peggy Gauvin, Saint Phillips Learn to Cook
Janice Irvine-Meek and Peggy Gauvin knew exactly what they wanted to do with their Community Food Mentor (CFM) training which they took in 2016. They wanted to teach kids to cook. They were inspired by a talk at their church, St. Phillips Anglican Church, about food security given by Aaron Shantz, coordinator of Our Food SENB at the time.
“We said, ‘Look, we are a small church, we have limited resources, we have two volunteers, what should we do?’” Janice recalls. “I remember, he was so emphatic. He said, ‘If you can do anything, then teach kids to cook.”
They took his advice to heart, took the CFM training, partnered with Queen Elizabeth School across the street and obtained a Community Food Action grant to start Learn to Cook, a five week after school course for kids in grades 6-8, 11-13 years old. This age group was chosen because they are most at risk for poor nutrition, obesity, negative peer pressure and mental health and self esteem issues. The program accepts eight kids for each fall and spring session.
Three years later, the program is still running and has a waiting list.
Janice says that partnerships are essential for initiating and sustaining a successful community food project, and that the CFM training taught them about groups in the Moncton area working in this sector and allowed them to network with like-minded people. They developed their project idea during their CFM training, learned about project management and, importantly, received a national certification in food safety. Subsequently she and Peggy received support from many groups including Our Food SENB, Mapleton Teaching kitchen, volunteers at St Phillips, Queen Elizabeth Home and School Association and also from the principal of the school , Terry Weir, which was key. She understood the benefits and helps recruit the kids. It’s “one of the most popular programs” at the school.
To track progress and to get a sense of what the kids know when they start, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire with queries like How many portions of fruits or veggies do you eat per day? Then they are asked again at the end of the course and it is often shown that eating habits have changed for the better.
Peggy, who has a background in teaching, designed the lessons. Every week the course starts with a presentation on some aspect of cooking — herbs, leavening agents, nutrition, etc. They have a chef come in to demonstrate the proper use of knives — how to slice, dice and chop and even how to cut a hot pepper correctly. Then the fun begins. They break into groups of two with a facilitator and prepare a meal together .
The first week starts with preparing healthy breakfasts like scrambled eggs or smoothies, and subsequent weeks build on their knowledge as they attempt more difficult fare like chili, burritos, soups, salads, strawberry salsa and cinnamon crisps. They talk about nutrition and other food knowledge as they go. At the end of the session, they all sit down together for a meal and give thanks. Janice says, “Some kids never had that.” They discuss the process of cooking and give feedback. “A real sense of camaraderie develops,” says Janice.
Parents are invited to the last class and this usually involves a big soup. Janice finds that what the kids learn often spreads back to their families, the kids taking more of a role in helping with food preparation at home.
Editor’s note: Recently The Learn to Cook Program at St. Phillips won a Horizon Health Network Community Award.