Many of the students at Mother of Divine Grace in Port Richmond come from families that span generations at the school. Many of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles graduated from the close-knit, Catholic school that dates to 1947.
So it was wonderful to hear that these kids signed up for cooking class so they could learn to cook dinner for their families, to relieve a grandmother or aunt who does the cooking for the extended family.
"My mom usually works till 10, so I'd like to learn to make some things so my grandma doesn't have to cook every day," said Faith Savoie, 10.
"I'd like to give my aunt a break," said Katrina Rivera, 9. "Maybe I can cook dinner for the family."
The principal, Jane Lockhart, a Port Richmond native, is leading the class, and she hopes to learn along with the kids. "I'm a really picky eater, and I don't know how to cook," she said. "My husband does the cooking. I'm famous for my ordering-out skills." Lockhart thinks the class is a great opportunity for the students to see a different side of her, and to show them that she is still learning, too.
Mother of Divine Grace is one of 35 urban schools around the region offering cooking lessons as part the My Daughter's Kitchen program. Some 70 volunteers are teaching children how to cook healthy suppers on a budget in after-school classes in Philadelphia and Camden.
The students at MDG were told the kitchen they were cooking in had to be spotless after their class, because Argia Manso, whom the students knew by name and by her cooking, would coming the next day to start rolling meatballs for the parish's annual spaghetti supper. The dinner (from 2 to 6 p.m. Nov. 11) will serve spaghetti, meatballs, and homemade gravy to about 500 people.
"Should we use one of Miss Argia's magic pots?" Lockhart asked. Of course the kids wanted to use one of the gleaming pots. "Maybe it will taste as good as Miss Argia's cooking," she said.
The lesson this week was tuna pasta salad, a hearty yet inexpensive meal ($17 for six servings) made with whole-grain pasta, a variety of fresh vegetables, and canned tuna for protein. As the students got the water boiling, Lockhart asked whether they'd ever had whole-grain pasta, adding that she had never tried it herself. Did they know why we were using whole-grain pasta, they were asked. Saige Adair, 12, summed it up brilliantly: "It's better for you because they kept the good parts of the grain in."
Even before class began, Joey Moore, 10, was certain he wouldn't like the meal.
"I don't like tuna — it just smells bad," he said. "It smells like raw fish."
He was told it was not raw, not to worry. Two other students mentioned they were not fans of tuna. And Faith put in that she is allergic to seafood. The odds were not looking good for the tuna pasta salad. But they were encouraged to keep an open mind.
The students were told how important it is for them to include fish in their diets, that it provides vitamins and minerals and nutrients that are important to keep brains and hearts healthy. And that canned tuna is one of the cheapest ways to get those nutrients.
As they chopped the peppers, tomatoes, dill, and scallions, they warmed to the preparation process and to the colorful vegetables.
And Lockhart was coaxing them on. "I was not sure about this recipe, either," she said. "But now that I see all these fresh ingredients, I cannot wait to taste it."
Joey was not so easily swayed: "Why do I have to try it? I know I don't like it," he grumbled.
"It's part of the class; you have to at least try," Lockhart said.
And just as he was accepting that reality, he spotted Greek yogurt as an ingredient in the dressing.
"I hate Greek yogurt!" he moaned. "It's going to ruin the whole thing!"
When all the veggies were chopped, the pasta and peas cooked and drained and cooled, the dressing of mayonnaise and yogurt and fresh dill mixed together, the kids took turns tossing the ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
"Doesn't it look beautiful?" Lockhart said.
"I don't think it looks that good," Christopher said honestly.
Finally, it was time to taste.
Christopher took a deep breath and put a forkful in his mouth and chewed slowly.
"It's not that bad." He paused. "I like it. It's really good," he said. "Joey, you should try it."
Joey took a forkful. We all waited as he chewed.
"I like it," he said simply. "I didn't think I would."
The kids reflected in their journals.
Christopher: "I think the tuna pasta salad was delicious. I learned that if you don't think something is good by looking at it, still try it."
Saige: "The tuna pasta salad was different from what I imagined. I tried tuna before and did not like it, but now I think it's good. Today, I learned that trying something new is worth it. I am proud of myself for doing something I didn't think I would."
Katrina: "I think trying something new was brave. Just because something looks nasty does not mean it is nasty. The tuna pasta salad was so so so so good."
Joey: "I learned that trying something new could be very healthy and delicious."
Even the principal surprised herself: "I don't like tuna, peas aren't my favorite, and I've never had whole-grain pasta before. But I really liked this," Lockhart said. "I guess I'm getting to be a grown-up."
Contact Maureen Fitzgerald at email@example.com.
Tuna Pasta Salad
Makes 6-8 servings
14 to 16 ounces of pasta, whole wheat or high fiber (I prefer Barilla Protein Plus pasta, which has a flavor and texture closer to traditional pasta)
16-ounce package frozen peas
5 scallions, finely chopped
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 red, yellow, or orange pepper, diced small
1½ tablespoons fresh dill
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
2 5-ounce cans tuna, drained and flaked
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Boil pasta for 5 minutes, then add the peas. Boil pasta and peas for the remainder of time listed on box to reach al dente.
Drain pasta and peas, then rinse in cold water and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the scallions, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, and flake the tuna. Add ingredients to a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, mayonnaise, dill, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Once pasta is cooled, add the pasta and peas to the large bowl of scallions, peppers, and tuna. Mix well to combine.
Add the mayonnaise and yogurt mixture to the large bowl of pasta salad. Mix well. If possible, refrigerate while setting the table. (If pasta salad seems dry, add a touch more mayo and yogurt until the salad is coated and moist.
Serve and enjoy!
— My Daughter's Kitchen
Per serving: 325 calories, 7 grams fat, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 133 milligrams sodium, 45 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams dietary fiber, 5 grams sugar, 20 grams protein