Title: Someone's In The Kitchen

Source: Boston Globe, 03/08/98, North Weekly, Page 16

Author: Wendy Killeen, Globe Correspondent

Someone's In The Kitchen


Like most kids, Nathan and Zachary Mills head straight for the kitchen after hopping off the afternoon school bus.

``I'm starving when I get home,'' said Zachary, 11, a fifth-grader at the Lynnfield Middle School. ``I grab 20,000 pounds of cheese and eat it.''

Nathan, 13, an eighth-grader, also admits to a gnawing hunger at the end of the school day. ``I usually eat what's in the drawers and in the refrigerator. Or I make macaroni and cheese. I can't cook much.''

That is about to change.

Nathan and Zachary have enrolled in a three-session course at the Women's Health Center of the North Shore in Danvers called ``Kids in the Kitchen.'' The aim of the class is to teach kids how to make quick, nutritious snacks and meals. It also emphasizes kitchen safety, from steering clear of sharp knives and hot burners, to cleanliness.

``It's about how to make healthy choices,'' said Julie Mills, the boys' mother and coordinator of women's services at the health center. ``We're helping them see you can have fun with and enjoy food, even if it's not junk food.''

The class, which is an extension of a course for adults called ``Families in the Kitchen: Cooking Smart the Low Fat Way,'' is also part of the center's aim to address the needs of entire families, including children.

``Studies prove that proper nutrition beginning at a young age can slow down or even prevent health problems later on in life,'' said Mary MacIssac, a spokesman for the center. ``Occurrences of heart disease and obesity are greatly reduced in those who have maintained a diet rich in vitamins and mutrients, and low in fat, since childhood.''

``We're a health and wellness center,'' Mills said, ``and we wanted to expand programs kids felt comfortable coming to.'' The class runs three Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. beginning March 18. It's for children ages 10 and up, and parents, grandparents and other caregivers are welcome. The cost is $30.

``Kids need to start learning as soon as they can about nutrition,'' said chef Cheryl Mochau of Salem, who teaches the cooking classes at the center. ``It's important for them to ask, `Do I want a cookie?' Or, `Gee, that apple looks good.' ''

She said the class is geared so ``kids can come home from school and whip up a snack.''

Each session includes coverage of a topic and a cooking exercise. Classes take place in the center's full-service kitchen-classroom, which was designed specifically for such programs.

First up will be a discussion of basic cooking methods, sanitation and safety. On the menu will be English muffin pizzas. ``It's so simple but it's healthy if you put the right stuff on it,'' Mochau said. ``We're putting veggies on it.''

The second class deals with healthy food habits and choices. Participants will then cook haystack eggs. ``They could make it for breakfast or brunch or could have it after school,'' said Mochau, adding the group will make one batch with real eggs and another with egg substitute. ``They'll see the difference and taste the difference and see how good the fat-free one is,'' she said. ``We do a lot of comparisons.''

That includes low-fat brownies made in the third class with applesauce or whipped prunes substituting for the eggs and shortening. ``Everyone is worried the prunes will taste like prunes, but they don't,'' Mochau said.

The kids will also describe and share their favorite recipes. ``Put an apron on a kid and a little spoon in their hand and watch them go,'' Mochau said. ``They love it. Creating food is an art when you get down to it.''

Mochau is proud that she started cooking at age 7, and clearly remembers making her first lemon meringue pie. Today, she is a personal chef with her business called Cheryl Really Cooks! She works for individuals, planning their meals, grocery shopping, cooking the meals in the their homes, and storing the food to be used throughout the week.

In addition to ``Kids in the Kitchen,'' she'll be offering a low-fat cooking series at the Women's Health Center on six Monday nights, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., beginning March 16.

Andrea McDonald of Gloucester took Mochau's course last fall. ``I had just gotten exhausted and tired of the type of cooking I was doing for the family,'' said McDonald, who lives with her husband and 14-year-old daughter. ``I saw the class advertised as family cooking and a process of revamping recipes and taking a new look and getting reenergized. And it worked.''

McDonald said Mochau ``demystified'' food lables and gave a lot of practical tips on how to reduce fat in cooking, from using ground turkey instead of ground beef to baking and steaming instead of frying. Her favorite, McDonald said, was the use of tofu instead of cheese in meals like lasagna. And she loved the tofu salad.

``It works up so it tastes like egg salad. It's awesome,'' McDonald said.

She said she also was surprised the class was ``as hands-on as it was. It was set up like a lab and everyone who wanted to cook could. I came away feeling I had learned something. Cooking is such an important life skill.''

Marie Torto, 9, plans to attend the ``Kids in the Kitchen,'' with her grandmother. ``I want to learn to cook omelettes so I can make my own breakfast in the morning,'' Marie said. ``I want to be able to cook things for the family.''

The Mills brothers are just hoping to fill that after-school void when their mother is still at work. ``I want to learn to cook more for myself that is more nutritious,'' said Nathan, who admits to eating a lot of junk food between meals. ``I like things that are pasta related.''

And Zachary has a clear picture of what he doesn't want in his culinary future. ``We went camping and my father was barbecuing something and he grabbed a can of Spaghettios and put it on the grill. It was heating up and it went, pow, and flew in the air. It ended up all over the ground next to me. I'd like to learn to cook better.''

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