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Livingston Meschelea

Millikin University's executive chef, Brian Pehr, shows Meschelea Livingston how to tell when the oats in the granola she helped make are finished during a Cooking Matters class at the Baby TALK Early Head Start Center.

DECATUR — Shantaeria Green wasn’t entirely on board when she learned she was going to be making homemade granola and a whole-wheat breakfast burrito packed with eggs, cheese and vegetables Tuesday afternoon.

But as she sat down to sample the snacks after learning how to cook them in “Cooking Matters,” a healthy cooking class hosted by Baby TALK Early Head Start Center, she was pleasantly surprised.

“It’s not bad at all,” said the 18-year-old as she tried the burrito.

Green, mother of 6-month-old Shonterius, was one of eight Early Head Start mothers who attended Tuesday’s class, the fourth in a six-week series.

Made possible by a partnership between the Share Our Strength organization and the Illinois Head Start Association, the classes not only teach participants how to prepare healthy meals for themselves and their children, but also the importance of good nutrition, healthy alternatives and a balanced diet.

Taught by volunteers Brian Pehr, executive chef at Millikin University, and Dr. Tina Cloney, a registered dietitian and an assistant professor of exercise science and sport at Millikin, the classes have been beneficial to the mothers, said Debby Durbin, wellness coordinator with Baby TALK Early Head Start.

“It’s great, and I think the girls are learning a lot,” she said.

“It’s an interesting class,” agreed Green, noting that in addition to the granola and breakfast burritos she helped make Tuesday, she’s also learned how to prepare Haitian chicken and rice, tortilla lasagna and ratatouille. “I like that we’re learning how to make recipes the healthy way.”

Tiffany Olbrias, 21, of Decatur, mother to a 2-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter, said the class has helped her find more foods her toddler will eat.

“I really like learning about healthy recipes for my 2-year-old,” she said after measuring out oats and other ingredients as she helped her group make granola. “He’s a very picky eater, and he’s loved all of these recipes so far.”

From teaching the women they can tweak recipes and use healthier alternatives — such as cooking spray in place of oil and butter, and honey and cinnamon in place of sugar — to stressing the importance of breakfast, Cloney said she was hopeful the class would make a lasting impression.

“I want to help them make the most of the resources they have and teach them that they can make healthy foods on a budget,” she said.

“I want to teach the girls how to plan meals and show them that food doesn’t have to be difficult,” Pehr said. “I also want to show them basic, fundamental skills they can use at home.”

“I’d definitely take a class like this again,” Green said.

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