The Daily Beet

29 May Adventures with Ami: Cooking in America

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I’ve been blogging for Engine 2 for two years now. I’ve covered all kinds of topics, shared recipes, my favorite kitchen items and more over the years.  I’ve had a lot of serious issues on my mind these days.  I’ve also been sharing a bit about the boxing gym/youth program we have started as well.  Recently, I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents and kids.  The conversations with kids center around food.  The conversations with parents center around money.  In many cases recently the lack of both seems to be the issue.  I have the pleasure of knowing dozens of kids from ages 6-25 (I’m in my 40’s – so 25 is a kid to me) – the kids come from all kinds of families, all kinds of income levels, but most of them are low income.  Many from single parent households.  In several instances, even though the single parent is working two jobs, it simply isn’t enough.  Not enough to provide the way they would like to any way.  Many parents find that they rely on the free and reduced school breakfast/lunch program to help provide nutritious meals for their kids.  We all know that the school lunch program could be more nutritious, but at least it is a meal, sometimes two if the school participates in a breakfast program.  I know for me growing up, at times I qualified for free or reduced lunch as well.  This program is fantastic… until summer comes.  Having hungry kids at home all day throughout the summer can stretch the family budget no mater how big or small it may be.

Salvation for many can be found in discount grocers,  big box stores that carry food items and for some the local food bank can be of assistance as well.  Buying only what’s easy and what is cheap or on sale can be the beginning of trouble for the health of our children.  In some cases, a working parent needs easy items that are kid friendly for kids that are home by themselves during the day in the summertime. Whether this is ideal or not, it’s a reality for thousands of American families.  Most of the cheap and easy stuff is highly processed, loaded with fat and sugar, artificial ingredients and really teeters on being non-food.  However, not all cheap stuff has to be unhealthy.  Dried beans, lentils, rice, pasta and frozen fruits and vegetables can be really economical, create many more meals than a pre-packaged ready to eat meal for the same price or less.  Plus you get more meals out of it.  The missing link seems to be… “How do you make that?”

Having a conversation with one of the parents I have the pleasure of knowing, reveals that most young folks today have no formal classes in school when it comes to cooking.  She doesn’t cook much – not from scratch any way.  Preferring packaged goods and ready made meals.  Heat and eat foods that require no preparation.  Most of the stuff contains little in the way of nutrition, but is ample when it comes to easy. Aging myself I’m sure… but we had home economics in school when I was growing up.  We learned the basics of cooking, budgeting, shopping and sewing.  Even saying this now seems antiquated a bit in today’s fast paced high tech world.  But is it?  If parents are busy working and are picking up take out more often than they would like and kids are busy with soccer, dance, AP classes and other extra-curricular activities…how will they ever learn how to cook?

I know that this doesn’t include everyone.  many of you work with your kids to teach them basic skills in the kitchen.  Some schools do have culinary classes as well. However, overwhelmingly, most young adults are headed out into the world without a shred of know how beyond ramen noodles and heating up a frozen pizza.  I discover this time and time again when I have classes with them.  Along the way over the past 25 years, we’ve grown monumentally in technology, with the internet at our fingertips daily and yet, we have seemingly tossed aside some basic skills required for healthy survival in today’s world.

What are you doing in your family to ensure your kids learn how to cook? What is being done in your schools? Are there avenues for learning in your community?  How could you help those in your community learn how to cookhealthy meals? I would love to hear your ideas on how we can help change the tide of convenience foods and lean toward better nutrition through cooking on a budget.

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Ami Mackey
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is a food coach at Engine 2 Extra and has been plant-strong since 2011. She is also the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • Linda Goudelock

    would it be OK to re-post this entire blog on my blog? I too had home ec and learned to cook at home and passed this onto my daughter (who knew she was paying attention?). She’s the reason I’m eating more plant based
    I know our schools are financially strapped, teachers should be paid more. But what are they teaching the children?

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  • Lynn Hower Allen

    My “kids” are 27 and 31 and both male. They grew up vegetarian. I told them they could eat whatever they wanted with their friends but at home “this is what we eat”! They opted to stay veg and, at this point, are meat and dairy free for the most part. Both are great cooks. Growing up vegetarian made it essential for them to be able to cook once they were in college and in their own apartments. I made cookbooks for both of them and they have gone from there. One of my sons is a great baker and the other great with soup and veggie main dishes. My kids grew up with me pretty much at home and that does make a difference. I taught them things and modeled good food, packing lunches and growing a lot of our own food. But we also had very little money. I really sympathize with single parents, that is a tough row to hoe. I’m a “senior citizen” now and I am grateful every day for good health. It never ceases to amaze me how little people know about the power of food on their health. I need to speak up more!!

  • Sharlynn

    The high school I teach in has culinary classes, now called “Consumer Science”. I was excited about the potential when the classes began two years ago. It has been a let-down. They spend a lot of time making cookies, cupcakes, and cheese-based dips for after school functions. The week the class focused on healthy eating was anything but healthy. The school breakfast and lunch menus are a nightmare. The students revolted about the horrible wheat based items and small portion sizes. PopTarts were brought back in for breakfast since it was a money-maker. I showed my students my little crock pot and told them they could plug one in in my classroom each morning; I explained how to make lunches the night before so they just needed to grab and run. They’d rather gripe about the food and continue to eat it (BTW, they are complaining about how “healthy” it is, NOT that it is crappy non-food!). Sigh! Best to you Ami. I know the struggle!

  • Robert Fox

    You’re an E2 coach, right? I’m a member – just signed up for the month trial offer last Thursday (6/5/2014). Unfortunately, I forgot my password when trying to sign in on Saturday. I clicked on “password reset” and was informed that an e-mail that would allow me to reset my password had already been sent to me. No e-mail arrived. I repeated the process twice Saturday and once today (Monday 6-9). I also clicked on the “still can’t sign in” option, filled out the required information and submitted the form, but again no response. I really would like be able to log onto the website. My e-mail is: robertfox77@gmail.com

    I posting here because I’ve tried everything else.

    Thanks!

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