Students prepare healthy meals on a budget during National Nutrition Month

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Preparing tasty, nutritious meals on a budget isn’t difficult.

That was the lesson this month for a cooking class on campus aimed at teaching students how to prepare a variety of wholesome dishes using affordable and simple ingredients.

As part of National Nutrition Month in March, the Student Nutrition Association, in partnership with the Department of Nutritional Sciences and University Healthy Services (UHS) at Penn State, hosted “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” a series of classes for undergraduate students focusing on preparing healthy meals on a budget.

Four cooking classes were offered as part of the program. Each class included members from a different student group or organization on campus, including the Penn State Panhellenic Council; HealthWorks, a peer education and outreach program in UHS; BLUEprint, a peer mentorship program for students of color; and Penn State Residence Life. Students paid $5 to attend the class. All money raised will be donated to the State College Food Bank.

All of the classes focused on creating dishes using either black beans or chicken as the main ingredient. Dishes included chicken carbonara, one-pot chicken and kale pasta, quinoa and black bean salad, black bean dip, and black bean brownies. Each dish took 30 minutes or less to make.

Students were divided into small groups, each tasked with making a different dish. At the end of the class, students had an opportunity to taste each other’s creations and provide feedback.

Kristen Lombardo, a senior nutritional sciences major who led one of the classes, said the reason behind choosing black beans and chicken as the main ingredient for the dishes is because those foods are inexpensive, versatile, full of nutrients like fiber and protein, can be purchased in bulk, and have a long shelf life.

“The purpose of this course is to open students’ eyes to different options for cooking,” Lombardo said. “We hope to teach them how to shop and prepare nutritious foods.”

Morgan Lemire, vice president of the Student Nutrition Association and senior nutritional sciences major, said this course is great for college students who are often living on their own for the first time and may find it challenging to eat nutritiously while on a limited budget.

“We want to show students new cooking and preparation techniques they can do on their own,” Lemire said.

The class also provided students with an opportunity to get practice in the kitchen using basic tools, said Stacy Jones, coordinator of educational services and dietitian with UHS.

“This class has gotten a positive response,” Jones said. “The students have loved it.”

Participants also received a booklet to take home, which featured the recipes for each dish and nutrition information on black beans and chicken and how certain nutrients affect the body. It also included information on cleanliness and safety in the kitchen, and ideas for swapping ingredients. The booklet was created by Quinci Peri, nutritional sciences student and HealthWorks peer educator.

“I learned that I need to think outside the box sometimes because it may not be as hard as I think to make different things,” said Jillian Speranza, a senior labor and employment relations major. “I will be graduating in May and hopefully moving into an apartment soon with a new job. This cooking class definitely helped me to learn skills I can use in the kitchen so I can make more food at home instead of going out to eat so much. This will be beneficial to save me time and money in the future.”

Anthony Mitchell, a senior majoring in political science, said he not only learned a few new recipes to take home, but that black beans are a great source of protein and can be cooked in many different ways.

“I think this experience has encouraged me to take more chances in the kitchen and has given me some more options that I can buy in the grocery store to cook for a filling meal on a budget,” Mitchell said.

For senior marketing major Bailey Mehalick, the class helped her feel more confident about following a recipe. 

“I plan to make some of the dishes from the class at home,” Mehalick said. “It was cool to also learn how much you can do with something as simple as a can of black beans.”

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Last Updated March 30, 2017