Takoma Park middle schoolers get a lesson in good-for-the-gut' food
Local chefs team up to teach healthy eating for Chefs Move! To Schools initiative
Inside Room 140 of Takoma Park Middle School Monday morning, garlic flew, salt spilled and pungent fish oil was used to torture classmates.
But just 10 minutes after the kitchen chaos, there was a calm after the storm. Seventh-grade chefs doused sweet potato fries in homemade fermented ketchup, a healthy, unprocessed treat chock-full of healthy bacteria.
The school's Family and Consumer Science class normally taught by 19-year school veteran Barbara Brooner was taken over Monday by Ruth Gresser, owner and chef of local restaurant Pizza Paradiso and self-dubbed "REAL Food chef" Monica Corrado, who runs healthy cooking classes and a Takoma Park private practice, Simply Being Well. The two teamed up as a part of first lady Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools initiative.
"Michelle Obama is concerned about two main things with you guys; who knows what they are?" Corrado asked the group.
Hands shot up, and somewhere amid the shouts were the words "obesity" and "diabetes."
"You want to be eating real food, and you want to be eating live food as much as you can," she said. "... They're good for your gut, and they help you digest your food."
Corrado specifically encouraged lacto-fermented food, listing off ferments that the diverse student body might find at home: chutneys, injeras, kimchi and sauerkraut. Fermentation kills the bad bacteria in food while allowing the good bacteria to grow, Corrado said. The process is quick and easy, and fermented food gives a boost to the digestive and immune system, she said.
After a brief demonstration of making ketchup and sweet potato fries, along with a lesson on picking "live," "real" food over "dead," "fake" food, the students broke into groups to do their thing. They filled and leveled measuring cups, crushed garlic, stirred and filled jars.
It wasn't graceful, but it was fun, they said.
"It's cool," said seventh-grader Joe Maher, of Takoma Park. "You don't normally get chefs to come and cook in front of you."
Zackia Ansah, also a seventh-grader from Takoma Park, said she loves to cook at home, especially macaroni and cheese. But would she make bacteria-packed ketchup?
"Yeah, I'll make it at home," she said. "I just won't use the fish oil."
Gresser, Corrado and Brooner all said it's important to expose the younger generation to "real" food not McDonald's, GoGurt or other processed foods. Brooner said she teaches only unprocessed meals in her classroom, like stir fries, sloppy joes, tacos and shrimp creole.
"We have to get the children excited about food, because they will come around," Corrado said. "They will use it. If you give them the tools, and you give them the knowledge, they will use it."
It's true, Brooner said. Her former students sometimes come back and talk about how they have changed their diets for the better as a result of her class, she said.
Gresser grew up with a mom who was always baking bread and treats from scratch.
"There are generations under me that don't know anything about real food," she said. "The kids were talking about the foods they eat in schools, and it's just terrible. We're trying to help that."
Their help comes not just in a one-day drop-in demonstration, but through a year of visits. Gresser and Corrado will be visiting Takoma Park Middle School monthly to talk about healthy eating. They're planning a "grow-your-own-pizza garden," where the middle-schoolers will use their homegrown basil and tomatoes to make nutritious pizza.
It's all part of their healthy-eating philosophy.
"Eat some real food, eat some live food and have fun with it," Corrado said.
Here's what you need:
-1 ¼ cups tomato paste (preferably organic)
-2 tablespoons whey*
-¼ cup pure maple syrup
-¼ cup fermented fish sauce (available at Thai or Asian markets)
-1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
-1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
*(make the whey yourself by straining plain whole-milk organic yogurt over a cheese cloth for at least 12 hours, using the liquid that drips through the cloth)
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until well blended.
Place in jar. Fill to the band, leaving about a one inch of space between the ketchup and the lid.
Cover tightly and keep at room temperature (68 to 72 degrees) for two to three days. Then transfer to the refrigerator.
Enjoy! Try the ketchup on homemade sweet potato fries drizzled in coconut oil, salt and pepper.
Correction: The incorrect photo information was originally Included with this story. It is now correct.