Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Learning New Lessons

by Ona Balkus, Operation Frontline DC Assistant Coordinator, Americorps VISTA

Last week, we celebrated the graduation of a Side by Side class series, which brings parents and their children together in the kitchen and classroom. This class presented some unique challenges for both me and the wonderful volunteer team with whom I worked. Scott, Liza, Heather, and I were all trying out the Side by Side curriculum for the first time, since it was our first in DC!
Assembling mini-turkey burgers for graduation party

I had sought the advice of Operation Frontline staff in other cities, and the challenges they had experienced definitely rang true in this series. Structuring a class so that both the adults and children are engaged is extremely difficult. With 12 children and 2-3 parents in this series, catering anything towards the adults was near impossible. The volunteers met the challenge though, learning from each class and trying new activities for the next.

Our volunteer chef, Scott, gave the adults more challenging chopping tasks, teaching them how to more easily cut onions, mangoes, and cantaloupe. While the parents chopped, the kids cut strawberries with butter knives and rolled oatmeal cookie dough into small balls. Our volunteer nutritionist, Liza, had separate discussions with the parents about modeling food behavior by trying new things and eating well, and also led activities where the parents and children worked together to brainstorm about healthy meals and snacking.

One of the most successful lessons came in class #3, when we had each family make their own personal pizza, rolling out home-made whole wheat dough (thanks to Scott’s prep work) and using a variety of sautéed and roasted vegetables. The children whose parents couldn’t attend the class had help from the volunteers. The kids loved pushing out the dough, and since they had helped chop the vegetables, were the first to add them on to the pizza. The parents looked pretty surprised as their kids piled on the mushrooms and peppers!

For the graduation lesson, Liza led a jeopardy game with the adults and kids. As I suspected, some participants had absorbed more than others in terms of nutrition information. But when the graduation party food came out, many participants showed that they had learned another important lesson: to have an open mind about new foods and tastes. Many kids tried guacamole on their salmon cakes, and one boy asked for thirds of the black bean and corn salsa.

Scott making fresh fruit popsicles with the kids

Big congratulations to the young participants of this series, who graduated from Operation Frontline and also their current grade at school last week. They were a caring, good-natured, if not a little rowdy, group of kids that were very hard to say goodbye to. All our best to them and their families!
I usually don’t love canned salmon, but these were delicious. Thanks, Scott! (And Trader Joe’s for stocking a non-fishy canned salmon!)
Yield: 35 2 oz cakes

1 Egg
1 cup Mayonnaise
2 tbsp Whole Grain Mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 tbsp Old Bay
1 tbsp Curry powder
1 ½ cup Scallions, sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced, small (optional)
1 cup Parsley, chopped
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 cans Salmon, drained well
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Pan spray


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Combine everything in a mixing bowl except salmon and breadcrumbs.
  3. Gently fold in salmon, careful not to break up the meat too much.
  4. Fold in breadcrumbs enough so that the mixture is tight.
  5. Cook small piece in sauté pan and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
  6. Form into 2 ounce cakes, and place on oiled baking sheet 2” apart.
  7. Lightly spray cakes with pan spray.
  8. Bake for 12 minutes, remove from oven, flip cakes, and bake for 5 minutes more, until firm and hot throughout.