My “Cooking Matters” Class Experience

A healthy homemade quesadilla.

Quesadillas are easy to make and, when filled with vegetables, a healthy dinner.

Recently, I enrolled in a six week cooking class, Cooking Matters, a national organization that strives to help families “to plan, purchase and prepare healthy, tasty and affordable foods at home.” Their idea follows the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Cooking Matters is sponsored by Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger and coordinated by the lovely Erin Jolly whose motto is MODERATION, BALANCE and VARIETY! As the first class of its kind being offered at Fort Lewis, Erin’s primary focus was not to change our diets but to improve our knowledge of nutrition and equip us with basic cooking skills.

The evening started off with introductions, revealing an amazing variety of seasoned cooks and beginners in addition those bored with their own cooking (me).  We then moved on into the “Shared Cultural Kitchen”(Native American Center/El Centro) where cooking equipment awaited us. Each station was set up with a knife and cutting board surrounded by bowls of vegetables. Our chef, Ryan announced that we would be making quesadillas, salsa and guacamole—a fairly simple meal.

We were guided through every step in creating the ultimate and heartiest quesadillas, including rinsing fresh vegetables; chopping fresh zucchini, onions, garlic, cilantro and peppers; and fine-tuning the special technique of seasoning. Spices can be intimidating but here’s bit of chef Ryan’s wisdom: “A good chef is a chef who constantly tastes.” Next, we made salsa and guacamole dips. For this step, we all worked together to come to a consensus of creating both salsa and guacamole dips with the perfect amount of spice and flavor—and we did!  If you haven’t guessed, here is where a hint lies, jalapenos are super-hot and yours truly had the extreme pleasure of dicing these little green monsters!

Once we finished our dips and placed our quesadillas in the oven to bake, we all moved into the dining room of El Centro where we began our lesson on the basics of nutrition. Erin moved us along in a discussion about the healthy food plate, a food-serving diagram that replaced the dated food pyramid most of us saw at some point or other. We learned that the largest portions of our meals should be solely dedicated to vegetables because colorful varieties indicate vital nutrients. If we intend to nourish ourselves, we need to incorporate Erin’s motto of MODERATION, BALANCE and VARIETY into our daily diets. However, that being said, Erin quickly clarified that it takes time to understand what our bodies need and we must all be diligent in exploring our options. So, no worries! Treat yourself to the occasional dessert or pizza but in moderation of course!

With the first class over, I look forward to learning more about nutrition, reading labels and, of course, cooking. In addition, I did learn a valuable lesson: wash your hands thoroughly after handling jalapeno chilies because it’s quite challenging for anyone other than yourself to remove contacts once they start a burning! Ouch!


By Trish Yazzie