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Chef shows students that with a little planning, preparation, healthy eating can be accessible


By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

A group of Millcreek Elementary School parents and youngsters enjoyed an added treat during the school’s fall festival when they sampled a fresh dish prepared just for them.

“With a little planning and preparation, they can also make ‘healthy’ very accessible – quick, convenient, and economical,” said Chef Jim Olert, the culinary arts instructor at Southside Technical Center.

With limited time, Chef Olert arrived ready to stir-fry – having already chopped an assortment of vegetables, mixed the soy sauce, and measured out the rice (Photo Provided)

With limited time, Chef Olert arrived ready to stir-fry – having already chopped an assortment of vegetables, mixed the soy sauce, and measured out the rice (Photo Provided)

Olert led a 40-minute evening session at The Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary, which had received a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. Program director Dawn Keith surveyed families this semester on possible topics for parent learning nights, and ideas ranged from a job fair, a health fair and homework help to an Infinite Campus tutorial and guidance on when to keep sick children home from school. The top choice, though, was a healthy cooking class.

With limited time, Olert arrived ready to stir-fry – having already chopped an assortment of vegetables, mixed the soy sauce, and measured out the rice. As he talked through the steps with his audience, one of his Southside students – Lafayette senior Parker Teasdale – handled the cooking duties.

“Healthy, convenient, and affordable are sometimes hard to meld, and it’s hard to make those decisions,” Olert acknowledged.

But he offered several suggestions, such as buying in bulk for large families and spending an afternoon prepping ingredients for the whole week.

Using the Asian stir-fry meal to demonstrate, the chef highlighted the ingredients, the tools, and the cooking techniques. For example, he explained that pilaf refers to a method of preparing rice or grain in seasoned broth. At times, he directed questions to the small group gathered in the school’s STEM lab, such as why cut up vegetables in a uniform size?

To ensure the food is evenly cooked, as one youngster correctly answered.

Moms Ivon Acevedo and Shara Thacker noted that the tips on cooking rice were really helpful, including the 2:1 liquid-to-rice ratio and the admonition not to stir the pot on the stove. Both had signed up for this session also looking for ways to stretch their grocery dollars.

“With three kids, to use a little money to go a long way is great,” Thacker said. Acevedo brought along her older daughter, adding, “She likes to cook, and we cook together.”

Toward the end, Olert took a moment to talk about kitchen knives and the fact that no one needs a 30-piece collection. Three is sufficient, he said, along with a carving knife.

“A lot of people’s stumbling block in the kitchen is the knife skills and prep,” Olert said. He showed off his everyday knives and pointed out the differences (paring vs. offset serrated, for instance), and even worked in a math lesson on holding to a 20-degree angle while sharpening the blades.

Millcreek’s Keith was pleased with the interest level and the evening’s turnout.

“A lot of people think that healthy cooking is not appetizing, and it’s easier to go get fast food, so this showed them that healthy cooking is simple,” she said. “It’s exciting we can offer this at school,” she added. “It’s also a great opportunity for us to build a relationship with Southside Tech. Our kids can see that ‘Hey, there are schools that actually specialize in this stuff.’”

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools


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