My Family Kitchen History

Changing Lives, One Home-Cooked Meal at a Time

Sometimes a pot of lentil soup is more than just a pot of lentil soup. For children enrolled in our after-school cooking program, simmering legumes, chickpeas, carrots, and spices can be a transformative experience that starts them on a path to healthier eating. It all begins by learning how to cook, one recipe at a time.

My Family Kitchen is an 8-week program where a small group of children in elementary or middle school learn how to prepare simple, healthy, affordable meals. Hands-on skills, nutrition education, and access to ingredients all matter when it comes to incorporating healthy food at home. So, our cooking program for kids involves all three, including recipes that integrate common items found in local markets and bodegas, such as onions, carrots, and potatoes.

Here’s what happens in the program. The mission of the program is to teach skills like chopping and roasting, measuring ingredients, and following recipes to demonstrate how easy it is to make healthy and tasty meals. Starting with basic recipes like scrambled eggs, children progress to making more complex meals such as roasted cod with breadcrumb topping or sloppy joe sliders with quick pickled cucumbers. While their cooking skills increase, children learn teamwork, apply problem solving, gain confidence, and learn the connection between diet and health. Plus, they discover new favorite flavors and foods, when the children and volunteer teachers sit down and share the meal, family-style

It’s not just what happens at school though. It’s what happens at home, too. Many children extend the program’s benefits by taking those skills with them each week and cooking for their families. Teaching young children how to cook gives them the tools to stay healthy as adults and disrupt the cycle of chronic health issues experienced by eating processed foods low in nutritional value.

The last week of the program children invite family and friends to experience their favorite creations from the class. On that day, My Family Kitchen extends to a table full of people sharing in the joy of a simple meal prepared by the kids. Here’s what that looked like at one school:

A version of this story first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Making Meals and Memories with Family & Friends

It was quite a moment to witness in the teachers’ lounge at Wiggins Elementary School in Camden: a team of fifth-graders buzzing around to prepare a three-course dinner for 20, hosting their families and friends after seven weeks of cooking classes. Even more moving than seeing the skills that had been developed was watching the pride that was swelling as the students executed the lessons they’d learned.

“I am the master chef,” A’Zon Young, 11, declared as he sautéed ground turkey, carrots, celery, and scallions for turkey lettuce wraps, one of the dishes they would be serving.

Tyrone Baker, 11, did not challenge him but threw down his own superlative: “Well then, I am the master of the salad,” he said, having just completed perhaps his favorite dish of the semester, apple, orange, and parsley salad.

Eliany Chavarria, 11, had clearly distinguished herself as the pastry chef in the group but was letting her work speak for itself as she and Umar Drinkard, 11, expertly cut circles of dough and filled them with blueberries and blackberries for the hand pie dessert course.

Edith Bobb and Susan Lore, both fifth-grade teachers at Wiggins, have been leading the after-school cooking classes each spring and fall for several years. This year, they were joined by school nurse Annemie van Laar, who throws in nutrition lessons as she goes. “Did you know that parsley cleanses the liver and kidney?” she asked as Tyrone chopped the herb for the fruit salad.

As is always the case, this culminating class requires more cooking than the students have ever done before, because they have to cook for so many more people. “This is a lot of work!” Umar said as he chopped through nine stalks of celery.

But even in the stress of party prep, Lore did not miss the opportunity to infuse math lessons: “We are tripling the recipe that called for 16 ounces of turkey. What is three times 16?” she asked her students.

“48!” Tyrone said.

“Yes, good,” she said, and pressed on, asking them to multiply fractions, convert from tablespoons to cups. The young chefs computed as they cooked.

Tablecloths and fresh flowers had been laid on banquet tables set up in the school library and once the food was finished and placed on trays, the students were dispatched to greet their guests. As the parents sampled the work of their children, there were many compliments and requests for seconds as the students basked in the praise.

“The class really made him more responsible,” said Tyrone’s mom, Brenda Martinez. “He really wants to help, he wants to cook, he even wants to do the dishes,” she said.

Quick Facts About My Family Kitchen

  • The 8-week after-school cooking program for children is offered in more than 20 schools in Philadelphia and Camden. We currently offer classes at these schools. Dozens of volunteers run the classes with two volunteers leading each class.
  • During the first seven weeks, students learn how to prepare a new meal for six for under $25. All recipes included in the curriculum use fresh ingredients rich in nutrients, protein, and fiber and moderate in fat, sodium, and calories.
  • After participating in the cooking class, 78 percent of children reported trying a new fruit or vegetable, 73 percent said they learned the difference between whole and processed foods, and 52 percent reported cooking the lesson recipes at home.
  • In 2013, Maureen Fitzgerald, former Food Editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, founded My Daughter’s Kitchen. In 2021, the program joined St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children and was renamed My Family Kitchen.
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