A couple of weeks ago Melissa, the brains behind ‘Caring Cooks’, got in touch with me. Melissa founded Caring Cooks as she is really enthusiastic about helping support parents create a healthy and active lifestyle for their families. She is also a trained chef and passionate about all things food!
As a parent to two young children I really understand the importance of a healthy diet for my children. It is something I really agonise over when it comes to Youngest as she is a very fussy eater. I also appreciate how difficult it can be to feed your family healthy and nutritious food when you are on a tight budget. When Oldest was born we were in the grip of the recession. Mr C was on reduced pay and working under the threat of redundancy and I was a stay-at-home Mum with Oldest. Money was a massive worry. We couldn’t afford to run our car anymore and if I wanted to attend a baby group then I would have to make the long walk as we couldn’t afford the bus fare. One real positive that came out of that slightly challenging time was that I became very adept at making our money go further in the supermarket. I worked out when the supermarkets would be reducing the food, I also became very good at making a little bit of meat go a long way and the slow cooker became my new best friend. Despite living on a tight budget we actually ate really healthily because I was cooking everything from scratch. This is something I like to think that I still do today but the reality is that I don’t really. I have become a bit lazy and sometimes rely on convenience food a little bit too much.
How does Caring Cooks help?
According to the Jersey Annual Survey, 45% of islanders have difficulty making ends meet. A shocking statistic but perhaps not that surprising. The cost of living is expensive on Jersey. 46% of adults on the island also feel that they don’t have the skills to cook meals from scratch. This is where Caring Cooks comes in; they recognise that there isn’t enough support on the island for encouraging children to eat healthily and for helping families to live healthy lifestyles. Caring Cooks offer a variety of services (you can read about them here.) these include a weekly meal service and a Jamie Oliver kitchen garden project. Melissa invited me along to try another one of their services – the community cooking programme.
What is the Community Cooking programme?
It is a 5 week course which will help you plan and cook nutritious meals for your family. It also arms you with basic cookery skills. It is for mums, dads and carers – you can be a beginner or even a bit of a dab hand in the kitchen – all are welcome. The course covers cooking methods; food health and safety, food planning and shopping for ingredients etc.
When Melissa asked me if I would like to attend the course I jumped at the chance. I am always looking at ways to feed my family better on a budget and this seemed like it would really help. I arrived at the class feeling nervous but the class and the teacher, Michelle, were all really lovely and I soon relaxed. We were having our lesson in the Home Economics department of the local school and the idea is that they try to mimic what your kitchen will have at home. So you aren’t given lots of fancy gadgets or gizmos, just the basics. This is perfect because it means that you should be able to easily recreate the recipe in your own kitchen.
We each had our station which was already set up for us with our ingredients. I found this very exciting and for a moment I felt like I was in an episode of Ready Steady Cook (does anybody else remember that? If not google it!) I was waiting for Ainsley Harriott to pop out with Sally Salt and Percy Pepper.
Sadly, they didn’t make an appearance. However, we did have the excellent guidance of Michelle who told us that we would be making pizzas. I could not have been happier to have heard this news. Youngest is a real pizza fiend. Now I like to think I am a good cook and I happily cook meals to feed a vast crowd. However, what I am not very good at is the prep side. You know, the chopping of the vegetables. I have a sous chef for that, you might know him, Mr C. When left to my own devices I will get bored with chopping and just chuck in a mishmash of different sizes of vegetables. Not this time though as Michelle showed us some nifty tricks for chopping quickly and efficiently. Admittedly some of my chopping skills still need improvement but it was much better.
Over the two hours I learnt how to make sauce with various hidden vegetables. I also learnt that you can freeze celery. This is something that never occured to me. I am forever wasting celery. If you have any left-over celery then chop it up and store it in the freezer ready for the next time you make a sauce. This sauce is perfect for Youngest who hates vegetables because she wouldn’t even realise that she is eating them. Very cunning! We then learnt how to make the pizza base. I really enjoyed making the dough for the pizza. I normally just bung it in the machine and use the dough hook but there was something very therapeutic about doing it by hand. Again pizza dough is so economical to make. You probably have most of the ingredients sat in your cupboard already.
The above was my dough that I made with my own fair hands! I could make some joke here about using my dough to save some dough but I shall resist. I was able to take all the stresses of the day out on the pizza dough. It had been a slightly stressful day as I had manged to trip down the stairs and throw coffee all over my white walls. Argh. I was very proud of my pizza but the perfectionist in me would have liked it to look a little nicer
I also might have had a serious case of pizza envy when the lovely lady next to me removed her pizza from the oven!
How amazing does her pizza look! However, it’s not Master Chef so I didn’t have to worry about getting booted out 😉 This is why the classes are great, any parent or carer can attend regardless of ability, you just need to be enthusiastic and wanting to learn. My pizza might not have looked the prettiest but it tasted delicious.
I really enjoyed the two hours and my fellow classmates all had a blast too. Michelle circulated and helped and as a result we all felt confident and in control. By the end of the lesson I had a good pizza and also had enough leftover sauce to get three more meals out of it. The plan is to use half of the sauce to make a pasta bake. I could also add some bacon and make a really nice pasta sauce too. So not only did I learn how to make some delicious and healthy food but I also came away with enough food for about 3 nights! Win.
The lesson was really useful as it has reminded me of the importance of going back to basics. If I spent a little time cooking a sauce every week then I could use it for several meals over the week. Making pizza is also a great way of getting the children involved too. You could encourage them to help you roll out the dough. I am planning on doing this with my two next time I make the pizza
Tonight will be lesson 2 and the plan is to make cottage pie and chilli, these are my two favourite dishes. I can’t wait! Watch this space to learn how I get on.
How can you get involved?
Any mum, dad or carer is welcome to attend the classes. You can find more information on the course here They are taking bookings now for the next 5 week course which starts on the 6th June.