Teamwork strengthens Head Start cooks


By Sue Cody


Head Start Cooking Class 6Eleven cooks and two administrators for Head Start recently participated in a cooking class at the North Coast Food Web in Astoria. Team building went far beyond the couple of hours spent slicing and dicing, stirring and baking. As the group sat down to eat the lunch they prepared, the mood was light.


“This is a fabulous investment in staff,” says Wendy D’Agostino, kitchen community coordinator for the Food Web. “Everyone can see the value in what we do to gain more confidence.”


The cooks from Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties had a range of experience from one year to 30 years cooking for large groups. “They had different levels of expertise,” D’Agostino says. Some had formal training and others did not.


“The class was a great opportunity for teaming,” says Liz Visser, area supervisor, ‪for Clatsop County Child & Family Development Programs.


“The teaching and education staff have many chances for career development, but the kitchen staff has not had opportunities like this,” Visser says. “This training is a great opportunity for the kitchen staff to come together and work on a recipe they can take back to their center and replicate.


“Our community is concerned about cooking, there’s kind of a buzz around it.”


Head Start Cooking Class 3How it all began


Visser says professional development is a passion of Joyce Ervin, ‪director of ‪Child & Family Development Programs that includes Head Start programs for Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties. When looking for opportunities for professional development for the cooks who serve the Head Start program, Visser suggested teaming with the North Coast Food Web. She had heard of the classes at monthly CHART (Community Health Advocacy and Resource Team) meetings, where 20 or more professionals gather to share what they are doing to improve health and social services.


“I had heard about the North Coast Food Web at CHART meetings and thought it might be a good fit,” says Visser.


Head Start Cooking Class 5As Head Start cooks move from pre-packaged mixes to scratch cooking, they face challenges in time management and successful outcomes.


In January, D’Agostino met with Visser to see what the needs were for leading a cooking class. A two-part strategy was set up.


“Part of the training was showing how the science of nutrition interacts with the brain and how we can share information with families,” says Visser.


An informal five-hour training was held several days before the cooking class to reinforced the value of nutrition for preschoolers. D’Agostino joined the cooks as they viewed videos and were given support materials.




D’Agostino reviewed the recipes with the cooks and learned where the cooks were having difficulty.


Head Start kitchens have to follow federal guidelines, nutrition guidelines, and already use recipes that are low fat, low sugar and low salt, D’Agostino says. Part of the challenge is working within the government constraints.


Visser says, “We are working with low-income families and what they have access to.” She says fast food and over-processed food are often what parents find available. “This is a great opportunity to provide healthy food.


“The kids in Head Start have access to education and nutrition that will affect their health later on,” she says. “This is something the cooks can take back to the parents, she says pointing out that some parents are more comfortable volunteering in the kitchen than in the classroom. Working as a team, the parents can learn new techniques in preparation and time management.


Head Start Cooking Class 2The class


“We prepared four recipes in an hour and 20 minutes,” D’Agostino says. “It’s all about time management. We ran the class Food Web style, which is fun and informal.”


The group chose recipes to troubleshoot after the first meeting. Each Head Start uses the same monthly menu and recipes, that are chosen by the cooks. Each team has separate facilities, but they can share recipe information.


D’Agostino reviewed the recipes with the cooks and learned where the cooks were having difficulty.


“I had to debunk some of the concerns. For instance, while you are chopping onions for one recipe, you could chop onions for all the recipes you would be using that week. Many cooks have kitchen assistants they don’t know how to direct. Give them a task. Prepare vegetables for the week,” she suggests.


“We also had support materials for troubleshooting sauces, flavor substitutions without changing the nutritional content and baking challenges,” she says.


“We addressed why the recipes didn’t turn out. For instance, why doesn’t a roux turn out? It’s about the science. If you cook it too long, you cook out the gluten.”


In the class, they cooked porcupine sliders that were made with ground turkey, rice, onions, celery, spinach and raisins. Also on the menu were carrot salad and mac and cheese.


Visser says, “Wendy was really good at relating to our cooks. She showed how they could shop in an hour. She was totally involved in the whole process. She attended the first educational part and asked the cooks what they wanted from the class.”


And in Food Web style everyone sat down to eat together. “I truly believe if we all sat down to eat together, we could have world peace,” says Merianne Myers, Food Web board president.


Head Start Cooking Class 1Takeaways


The North Coast Food Web gave each cook the “Good and Cheap” cookbook that advises how to eat well on $4 a day. The book was written by Leanne Brown for people on a tight budget. “Kitchen skill, not budget is the key to great food,” she writes.


D’Agostino says, “Now the North Coast Food Web is another resource for the Head Start cooks. They are part of an email chain. They can ask questions or I can send information to them.”


“Everybody had a positive reaction,” Visser says of the cooks in the class. “They all participated and took something away.”


“I’m very impressed with these cooks,” D’Agostino says. “They are supported in a unique way.”


“I am grateful Tillamook and Columbia counties joined in this training,” says Myers. “We have it all right here in Clatsop County. These cooks are all part of the movement to improve health. They even helped cook for the Warming Center. We love having them in the building.”