By Melissa Pasanen
“So, who’s eaten protein today?” asks Connal McCullough of a group of intent preteens gathered at the Jordan Boys and Girls Club in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
“I had chicken,” says Juan Lopez, 12. “Kentucky Fried—but that’s still chicken.”
It was the perfect opening for the evening’s subject: making a healthier alternative to Juan’s deep-fried lunch. Instructors McCullough, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, and Tony Rosenfeld, chef and co-owner of b.good restaurant, are teaching hands-on cooking and health as part of a six-week course created by Operation Frontline, a program of Share Our Strength, the national antihunger and antipoverty organization.
“You hear about a nutrition class and you roll your eyes,” says Erica Vogelei, former program manager for Operation Frontline in Massachusetts, “but a cooking class with a real chef—that’s exciting.”
Since 1993, Operation Frontline courses have reached more than 31,000 people in 15 states, including low-income adults, children and teens, and people living with HIV and AIDS. The in-kitchen classes are led by volunteer teaching teams—usually a professional chef paired with a nutrition educator. In most cases, students leave with a bag of groceries so they can recreate what they’ve just learned at home.
Tonight’s project—low-fat baked chicken—emerged from the oven crisp and juicy. “Is it better than KFC?” asks Rosenfeld. “Sure. It’s homemade,” says Jerricka Rodas, 12. “We should have put some spice on it,” volunteers a classmate. The final verdict comes when another voice asks, “Is there any more?”