Food course making a difference

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Cassady Bear, a student enrolled in Palliser Beyond Borders at Vulcan Outreach School’s Freezer Foods Frenzy program, prepares a meal in the foods lab at County Central High School.  

VULCAN – For this group of high school students, taking school work home isn’t something they’re likely to grumble about.

Ten Palliser Beyond Borders at Vulcan Outreach students are currently enrolled in a special foods program, Freezer Foods Frenzy, being piloted there.

Their pay-off for putting in a full day of cooking instruction once a month is more than just school credits. They’re also stocking the freezer to fend off seriously rumbling stomachs down the road.

The experience has also instilled a sense of pride in what they’re achieving, says course instructor Lee Porath.  She recalls one particular student who was beaming about taking home and sharing with a friend the meal she had prepared in class.

“She was so excited because she knew how good it was,” says Porath.

The Palliser alternative high school  offered a more traditional foods program last year, with students making a meal to eat that day for lunch. With a growing number of their students either living on their own or with a family having a tough time making ends meet, that might be their only meal of the day.

“I was hoping by creating this, on those down times when they don’t actually have food, they can open their freezer and have a meal,” she says. “We can’t educate our students until their basic needs are met and food is one of their basic needs. This program just lets us hit that basic need outside of school time.”

Palliser Regional Schools provided funding for the first month of the pilot project, with Vulcan and Region Family and Community Support Services picking up the tab the following two months. Porath is busy applying for every grant imaginable to cover costs going forward, but at this point she isn’t sure where the money will come from to continue with the program.

Cassady Bear was already living on her own and cooking for herself daily before Freezer Foods Frenzy was offered. The 17-year-old had no hesitation in signing up, however.

“I just like it because it’s food and food is amazing,”she says, listing Lazy Lasagna among the favourite dishes she’s learned to cook so far. “I get to learn new recipes that I normally wouldn’t have time to look for.”

Bear admits to being a picky eater but has learned that garlic, onions and even cream cheese can be made palatable when mixed properly with other ingredients.

“It’s broadened my horizons, I guess,” she says of the course.

Bear prefers hands-on learning opportunities, rather than relying solely on a text book, and Freezer Foods Frenzy fits in perfectly with that.

“You get to see and taste the end result immediately. And we get to be the judge, after we eat it, whether it was good or bad or what it might have needed,” she says.

Porath says the monthly gatherings allow plenty of time to visit as they prepare the food, and she gets to learn more about her students at the same time.

“We enjoy those days because there’s lots of learning going on that you don’t even realize is learning,” she says.

The course meets curriculum requirements in a number of ways, says Porath. Nutrition and food safety components are both covered, and budgeting and meal planning have opened more than a few eyes.

“They ask ‘how do you make meals that are cheap? Because I make a meal for myself and have so much left over and I don’t want to eat the same thing for three days in a row,’ ” she says of her students. “They had no idea they could freeze it for later.”

Planning and preparing meals ahead of time also allows them to reduce costs, just $1.59 per serving at their last workshop.

Cooking for a full day each month at County Central High School’s foods lab – rather than an hour or two a week – makes it easier for students to work around schedules that often include full-time employment in addition to school. It also allows each student to try four to five recipes and prepare eight to 10 meals for themselves, each consisting of four servings.

Porath was thrilled when Vulcan FCSS provided funding for the Vulcan outreach school to purchase a freezer, since some of the students aren’t sure where they’ll be living from month-to-month, never mind finding space to store frozen meals. With Furniture Villa offering them a deal on that freezer, there was money left over for groceries.

Individuals or businesses interested in making financial or other donations  to the program – Porath is also looking for new or used crockpots so students and adopted families can reheat the frozen meals – can contact the school at 403-485-6180.

All but a couple of the students in the program rely on the food they cook to get by.  There were students who Porath knew would be interested and didn’t want to exclude because they or their families weren’t in need.

Those students cook freezer meals for families of County Central  students who have been identified by the staff there.

Scott Lake is working presently but it’s been a challenge to pay the rent and put food on the table and he, his wife and daughter are appreciative of the meals Freezer Foods Frenzy provides them.

“And the food is remarkable,” says Lake, who’s looking forward to digging into the pizza pasta the family received.  “We haven’t had a bad meal yet.”

Not only is the program helping those in need, he says it provides the students with practical experience for when they enter the workforce.

“When I was in school, I never saw anything like that and it’s refreshing to see,” says Lake.