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Chefs Move To Schools: OFL Detroit volunteers talk about what's next in the fight against childhood obesity

Last night we held a panel of seven of eight chefs who went to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to help first lady Michelle Obama launch her Chefs Move To Schools campaign, her latest effort to fight childhood obesity.

The chefs — Aaron Bruck, Ina Cheatem, Barbara Hughes, Jim Kokenyesdi, Karen Lee, Stewart McWilliams and Pat Parko — shared their experience of being among hundreds of chefs nationwide who descended on the nation’s capital on June 4, the challenges they face and what’s next in their mission to help schools serve healthier meals to students.

From left: Karen Lee, Barb Hughes, Stewart McWilliams, Jim Kokenyesdi, Pat Parko, Aaron Bruck and Ina Cheatem

The chefs discussed at length some of the challenges they’ll face in the schools’ kitchens, ranging from funding (according to this Washington Post article, the federal government allocates $2.68 per child per lunch) to resistance (i.e. administrators or complicated relationships with vendors and catering companies). During a breakfast symposium hosted by Share Our Strength before the launch event on the South Lawn, the chefs learned that while this is a very huge task, it’s important to take baby steps, i.e. start by planting a garden and getting the discussion going.

We know it’s not going to happen overnight but with the dedication of these chefs, as well as others across the country, this is a huge step forward in fighting childhood obesity.

Chef Jim summed it up best when he talked about how he alone couldn’t change 20 schools but by building a network of equally passionate chefs, as a team they can work together in helping students eat healthier.

Thanks, chefs, for all you do and we look forward to seeing your passion translate into healthier food for students.

Also, a big thank you to Stewart McWilliams who graciously hosted our group at his restaurant Mind, Body and Spirits. For pics of the awesome food and even more awesome chefs, check out our Facebook page.

June 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm Leave a comment

Volunteer spotlight: Mary Gisslander

Mary Gisslander proudly shows off MyPyramid after a class at St. Matthews and St. Josephs.

Mary Gisslander is an Operation Frontline Detroit volunteer who loves to share what she knows with others. That makes OFL a perfect fit for the Macomb Culinary Institute student!
Mary took some time out from her jam-packed schedule to answer a few questions for us.

Q. Where were you born and where do you live?

A. I was born in Detroit and currently live in Sterling Heights.

Q. How did you hear about OFL and why did you want to be a part of it?

A. I first heard about OFL while taking the Culinary Techniques class at Macomb Culinary Institute during the Fall 2009 Semester. Chef Ray Hollingsworth showed the class a flyer, I was interested, wrote down the website, went on line, read about OFL and decided it would be a great way to help other people to learn what I have learned. I observed a few of the classes and decided it was definitely something that I could do.

Q. When you get your Macomb culinary degree, what are your future plans? Why did you decide to go to culinary school?

A. At this point I am not exactly sure where my focus will be in the culinary world. There are so many different areas to consider. If everything goes according to “the plan” I will be involved with a culinary internship that will give me exposure to all areas that are covered in the Associate Degree of Culinary Arts. After that, I will have a better view on where I would like to head. I have worked for many seasons at the Franklin Cider Mill. Chefs around the area will come in to purchase fresh apple cider and choose from our cheese selections for their menus. During conversations with them, I learned of Macomb’s culinary program and decided that eventually that was something I would like to do. Finally the time was right and I decided to enroll in a few classes, and while I was at it, why not earn the Prep-Cook Certification. After taking the Culinary Techniques class I was hooked, and declared my Associates in Culinary Arts.

Q. What do you like best about OFL? The participants? The classes?

A. There are so many good things about OFL it is hard to pick out what is “best”. In six weeks the program touches on proper nutrition, eating healthy, proper portion sizes, the food pyramid, sanitation, food safety, reading and preparing recipes, knife skills, kitchen safety, working and eating together, cutting up poultry, menu planning, budgeting, how to shop at the grocery store, organizing a shopping list and creating an economical meal. So, in this six week program the participants learn a little about everything I will learn to earn a degree. These are the basics that everyone needs to make healthy, nutritious, and safe meals.

Probably the best thing about OFL are the participants. They are eager to learn, like the hands on participation and ask many questions.

Another thing that I am very appreciative of OFL is the opportunity to share the knowledge that I have with others and hope that they in turn will share what they learn.

Q. What do you like to do in your spare time other than cook?

A. In my spare time when not working or attending classes I help in the community as an American Red Cross volunteer and as a member of the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition help the city of Detroit maintain Historic Fort Wayne.

Q. Do you cook at home often? Do you have a tasty, budget-friendly, healthy recipe you’d like to share?

A. I cook at home every day. I am a proponent of the one pot meal, but don’t tell Mom! Apparently when I was younger I didn’t like any of my food touching and she would tease me that she was going to get me a plate with dividers! One of my favorite meals is cube steak, rice with mixed vegetables, side salad with red wine vinegar, and a glass of milk. This one meal provides food from all five food groups.

Mary’s Cube Steak, Rice with Mixed Veggies
Cube steak
Seasoned flour
Olive oil
Rice, any kind–white, brown, wild (Of course we’re going to advocate some whole grains!)
Low-sodium chicken broth
Frozen or fresh mixed veggies

The cube steak is already run through the store’s mechanical tenderizing process, but I either have them run it through a few more times or take it home and pound it out even thinner.
Dredge the meat in seasoned flour and fry it in a little olive oil until juices form on top, then turn over once. This only takes a few minutes since the meat is so thin, and the flour gives it a nice crisp coat.
I cook the rice (any kind – white, brown, wild) in low sodium chicken broth for flavor and add a medley of frozen (or fresh) vegetables (beans, peas, carrots, corn etc).
(For the salad) The side salad consists of any vegetables and fresh fruit (or dried) I have in the fridge, a few nuts, and top it off with red wine vinegar or lemon juice.

June 4, 2010 at 1:09 am Leave a comment

Diana Says Goodbye

After a full year of working at Gleaners and Operation Frontline, my AmeriCorps obligation will sadly end on May 12th. As many of you know, AmeriCorps is a federal program that poses a challenge to its volunteers – complete 1700 hours of service in a year, and you’ll get a living stipend, emergency-based health care, and $4725 to be used for educational expenses.

Reflecting on those 1700 hours reveals how difficult that challenge really is: I was often tested with my financial limitations. With all of this, though, I found myself in a unique situation where I closely identified with the stories in the OFL classroom. Receiving food stamps myself, I felt much more personally attached to the mission of supporting a healthy lifestyle on a limited budget.

Of these 1700 hours, my favorite moments were those spent with participants, learning and being open to new experiences. I was fortunate enough to coordinate a Comer Bien class three blocks from my house, which provided a chance for me to connect with my Spanish-speaking neighbors in a way that I never had before.

I have also treasured meeting OFL volunteers and Gleaners staff, as well as the staff of neighboring organizations – people who are dedicated to improving the food system in our region. As affiliates of Gleaners, we have a powerful voice in shaping the public’s view of hunger, who is affected by it, and ways in which we can create sustainable solutions. I am proud to have been part of this conversation for a year, and I hope to continue creating meaningful discussions in the future.

Thanks, everyone, for a wonderful year!

April 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm Leave a comment

Food budgeting: Feeding a family on a food stamp budget

Did you see the AP article that featured three chefs planning meals for a family of four on $68.88 a week? Check it out here if you missed it.

Food budgeting is an important topic that we cover in Operation Frontline classes. Two of the chefs went over budget so after reading the story, I started thinking about how I would go about it, and most importantly stay within budget. I figured that with my OFL experience and limited budget myself as an AmeriCorps, this was right up my alley.

Last week I got my box of fresh, beautiful produce through Fresh Food Share, which is a community-based food distribution program run jointly through the Green Ribbon Collaborative (made up of Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan, Greening of Detroit and Eastern Market). For $17 this month’s box contained oranges, apples, grapes, romaine lettuce, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, eggplant, broccollini, tomatoes and the most gorgeous peppers I’ve ever seen. Armed with enough produce to get through the week (and I’m sure far beyond that), I already had a good foundation for my meals. In our classes we like to tell our participants to take stock of what they have and build from there so you’re not buying superfluous goods, especially with produce, which goes bad really fast. Other than berries, bananas, peppers and cilantro, I pretty much stuck to the veggies that were in my box (I got the $10 box, which still had more than enough produce for the week).

The budget buster is almost always the protein, which made up a huge portion of the chefs’ budgets in the article. I usually buy meat from Honey Bee Market in southwest Detroit because they have such great deals, including chicken legs for 49 cents a pound and tilapia for only $2.99 a pound (compare that with $9.99 sometimes at Whole Foods!!). I picked up beef for stir fry so I could use up some of those mouthwatering veggies in my produce box and tacos for meat. Honey Bee also has very cheap produce and I almost always pick up peppers, cilantro and avocadoes there on my way home from work.

For staples, I pop in to Kroger near my apartment. You really can’t go wrong with the 10 for $10 deals plus they have good meat sales. You can get a whole chicken for less than $1 per pound and that chicken goes a long way in feeding you for the week. I also got a big bag of rice here for $2.69 but I like to buy my rice at Asian markets–you definitely get a lot more bang for your buck. Same goes for seasonings such as soy sauce and sesame oil. You can get a much bigger bottle of these things than the smaller container found in the international aisles at the supermarket.

Finally one last tip for shopping on a budget is to shop in season. Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits but they’re pricey most of the time–except for now. I saw strawberries for $1 at Meijer this week while shopping for a class; at Kroger they are on sale for 2 for $3.

Check out my menus and shopping list here and here. I ended up with nearly $6 to spare but I had some of the items on hand such as soy sauce and sesame oil.

What about you? Share your own menus and shopping list in the comments below!

April 19, 2010 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

Wheatberry salad recipe by OFL volunteer Karen Lee

For my graduation classes I (@Dorothy) like to have a potluck party. Last week I had three graduations so you know what that means–tons of good eats! I made mini chocolate cupcakes with prunes for my Hazel Park class and then some zucchini chocolate chip cookies for my River Rouge class. Gotta sneak those veg and fruits in somewhere!

One dish I thought was spectacular was chef volunteer Karen Lee’s wheatberry salad. I had never tried wheatberries; I enjoyed the heartiness of the grain, which was dressed in a super delicious vinaigrette. After I begged Karen for the recipe, she graciously sent it to me. Check it out and try it for yourself! I really like the combo of onion, edamame and black beans, but this can also be adapted to your personal tastes and preferences.

Wheatberries refer to the entire wheat kernel and have a ton of fiber. Photo attribution: zandland

Recipe: Wheatberry Salad
1/2 c of Wheatberries
8 oz. of black beans
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 cup of edamame
1/2 cup red onion, diced
3 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Simmer the wheatberries in 4 cups of water for 55 minutes until tender. Drain & rinse under cold water until cool.
2. Mix with 8 oz black beans, 1 cup grape tomatoes cut in half, 1/2 cup Edamame, 1/2 cup red onion.
3. Make the dressing with the olive Oil, red wine vinegar and salt & pepper to taste.

Notes from Karen:

That’s really all there is to it! I have used other veggies, cukes, carrots, celery; and other beans white or pink kidney; and lima beans in place of Edamame. I think it is the perfect salad and is my go to when I want a quick bite. The original recipe is from a magazine and I use it because it has whole wheatberries in the recipe which I like both the taste of and the nutritional value. They’re very high in fiber!

April 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

We love our volunteers!

 We’ve said it many times and we’ll say it again: without the great volunteer chefs and nutritionists who generously donate their time to OFL Detroit, we would get nothing done! In 2009, we had a total of 41 classes. We currently have 42 classes on the books for 2010, 41 of which are before the end of May! So that means lots of volunteer hours logged. To show our hardworking volunteers some love, we threw a Volunteer Appreciation Party at the Crofoot Feb. 24. Check out some snaps from the soiree.

Chef Dave Andrejko and OFL coordinator Sarah Stephison.


Chef Jerry Aulph and culinary student Mary Gisslander talk shop.

Special thanks to Chef Michael Geiger from Eastern Market who did an awesome demo on Vietnamese fresh rolls. Even our seasoned (ba-dump-bump, I slay me with my puns) chefs picked up a few new tricks and tips. Here’s Michael’s recipe for Vietnamese fresh rolls and dipping sauce (sorry, no pics of the rolls because we ate them all and went back for seconds).

Chef Michael Geiger conducts his demo from the Crofoot's DJ booth. He must feel at home because he is also a DJ!

Vietnamese Summer Rolls and Dipping Sauce

Recipe by Michael Geiger, Eastern Market

  • 6 oz rice vermicelli or rice sticks
  • 10 oz boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienne
  • 2 cups of shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 english cucumber, peeled, seeded and julienne
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • cup of fresh mint leaves
  • cup of fresh Thai basil
  • 10 rice paper wrappers ( 8 1/2 inch round)
  • cup of roasted peanuts, chopped

1. Cook the vermicelli in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 1-2 minutes. Drain the noodles, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Set aside.

2. Fill a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Add chicken breast, reduce to a low simmer, and cook until opaque in center (instant-read thermometer should read 165°F when inserted into thickest part of breast). Transfer the chicken to a bowl and allow to cool. Once cool, shred chicken with hands.

3. To assemble rolls, add warm water to a large shallow bowl or pie plate. Moisten 1 wrapper in the water and place it on a clean cutting board. Place about 1/2 cup of the noodle mixture, approximately 1 oz of shredded chicken breast, some julienne carrots, julienne cucumbers, and a few cilantro leaves, mint leaves, and Thai basil in the center (add a few chopped peanuts at this point if desired.). Fold in each end of the wrapper and roll to completely enclose the filling. Repeat to make 10 rolls.

4. Slice in half and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce

1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1/3 cup sugar
3 T sugar
3 T rice vinegar
2 T water
1 large garlic clove minced
2 tsp chili sauce

February 26, 2010 at 10:40 pm Leave a comment

Portion Distortion: How Much You Should Really Be Eating

One of the main themes that we talk about in our Operation Frontline classes is appropriate portion sizes. In the past twenty years, portion sizes in restaurants and in grocery stores have bulked up a bit, from muffins to soda to the size of our dinner plates. As a result, we not only eat more, we buy more. Needless to say, we as a nation have a bit of a weight problem, not to mention other health issues such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


To help you visualize this portion distortion, Divine Caroline had a great series of photos. Here are a few:

Photo Credit: Divine Caroline

To burn off the extra 145 calries you gained just by choosing the 20 oz. bottle over the 8 oz. bottle, you would have to walk up and down stairs for about 30 minutes.

Photo Credit: Divine Caroline

To burn off the 360 calorie difference between these two tubs of popcorn, you would have to play basketball for about 45 minutes.

Do we have you convinced?

You can take the Portion Distortion quiz here to test your knowledge on portion sizes and how they have changed in the past twenty years.

To learn more about portion sizes and food labeling that appear on the products you buy, check out this video put out by The New York Times.

February 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm Leave a comment

Graduation day

We’ve just wrapped up a series of Eating Right classes from southwest Detroit to Inkster to Lincoln Park. It was a great session with a very good graduation rate. Since I’m (@Dorothy) in a festive mood, I wanted to share these pretty cupcakes that volunteer chef Katelyn Dinkgrave concocted. The recipe is from our Eating Right book and is made without any eggs–it’s actually very close to a vegan recipe since it uses no animal-based products. I wanted Katelyn to draw upon her baking and pastry expertise and asked her how we could jazz up the cake, which doesn’t call for any icing or accoutrements.

She came up with the idea to make a simple chocolate ganache using semisweet chocolate chips and 1 percent milk. So it’s a little bit healthier than a typical ganache, which uses heavy cream. She put a light dusting of powdered sugar and topped it with fresh strawberries. Our Inkster grads loved them!

February 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Reducing Childhood Obesity and Malnutrition

This week, I (Diana) was lucky enough to be on a conference call with Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, along with hundreds of other representatives of anti-hunger organizations, schools, and those concerned with child nutrition. The conference call, which detailed the Obama administration’s call to improve the Child Nutrition Act, came a day after the official launch of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and two days after his speech at the National Press Club, where he insisted on eliminating “Pepsi, French fries and Snickers bars from the nation’s schools.”

Michelle Obama's Launches her Let's Move campaign. Photo Credit: Share Our Strength

Working for a program that deals with nutrition for low-income families, it has been fantastic to see the political will on the federal level to address the issues in our food system. Janet McLaughlin, director of Operation Frontline, was able to attend the First Lady’s announcement of Let’s Move, saying,

It might seem odd for an anti-hunger organization to be at an anti-obesity event. But there is a natural alignment. Hunger is, at its core, a health issue. Whether we call ourselves anti-hunger activists, health advocates, or anti-obesity campaigners, we are all working to ensure that kids eat the nutritious foods they need to lead active and healthy lives.

I believe our role as a nonprofit with a mission to “end hunger and poverty” is to use our efforts and influence to ensure that kids with the least get the most benefit from the Let’s Move campaign.

As I wrote in a previous post, the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is a critical moment in improving school lunches and other federally-funded programs. In Vilsack’s statement with the press and on the conference call, he made certain priorities known – a “wish list” for what he would like to see in the new Child Nutrition Act:

  1. Allocate more resources to ensure that all children who qualify for federal programs through the act (including school lunches and breakfasts) actually benefit from them
  2. Increase participation in schools offering breakfast and lunch programs
  3. Improve nutritional quality of meals offered through schools
  4. Reach children through non-school days
  5. Improve the message of quality and nutrition in schools (such as the items found in vending machines)
  6. Encourage schools to implement wellness policies, which promote physical activity
  7. Provide more information for parents and children about the meals being served in school
  8. Strenthen the link between local farmers and schools

Photo Credit: Let's Move

The message offered both by Vilsack and the First Lady is one that is both refreshing and inspiring for those of us who work to eradicate childhood hunger. I feel that I can tentatively say – Yes, they finally get it. I sincerely hope that this new campaign is successful!

February 12, 2010 at 7:49 pm Leave a comment

Food budgeting: Feed a family of four on $10? You bet!

Chicken is always a good budget choice for dinner but squash definitely will let you stretch your dollars because it's in season right now.

In Week 5 of our Eating Right class, we issue a challenge to participants: using what you’ve learned over the past few weeks, plan a meal for a family of four for $10 or less. Many participants are confused at first–can it be done? Of course!

Using several strategies, there are many ways you can save money at the register. Some of the things we discuss include:

  • Clipping coupons (check out this post for more on coupons)
  • Shopping with a list (so you don’t end up with the fifth bottle of ketchup in your cupboards or forget the basil)
  • Eating before heading out to the store (so you don’t indulge on the free samples of doughnuts)
  • Using the unit price (the cost of an ounce, a pint, a pound or other amount) to compare the cost of food in different sized containers
  • Buying in bulk

That last one can really save you some big bucks. One of the participants in my (@Dorothy) current class in Inkster is a real savvy shopper. She definitely stood up to challenge and created not one but two shopping lists and meal plans. She ended up going with her spaghetti plan because it was cheaper. She used the store flier to plan and figure out the prices and the price tag for her meal (which included garlic bread with parmesan, which ultimately was cut from the list) was more than $16, well over the $10 parameter. But she brought a spreadsheet that compared the retail price to what she usually pays (she always buys in bulk to stretch her $200 monthly food budget) and that price was several dollars less than the retail price.

For those who aren’t as money savvy as Robin, I just came across a great article by Cooking Light that offers different meal ideas for a family of four for under $10.  And there is not one meal including ramen noodles or PB & J in sight! I think the roast chicken with potatoes and butternut squash sounds perfect for a winter’s night. What do you think? Check out the list here.

February 3, 2010 at 6:41 pm Leave a comment

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USDA Statement

This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This work is supported in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services, under contract number ADMIN-10-99011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Michigan Fitness Foundation or the Michigan Department of Human Services. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, these institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720- 6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more contact the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline at (855) ASK-MICH. Space-Limited USDA/DHS/MNN Credit Statement This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. These institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. People who need help buying nutritious food for a better diet call the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline: (855) ASK-MICH.


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