Families learn nutritious meal prep at HomeFront agency

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Cooks slice and dice fresh butternut squash and broccoli, preheat the oven and learn how to prepare a nutritious, budget-friendly meal.

“They have totally enlightened me,” said HomeFront client Stacey Downing.

HomeFront, a social service agency that serves the working poor and homeless families, offers culinary classes at its Family Campus in Ewing at no cost to its clients. The teaching kitchen, created and designed by Princeton resident June Pecora, is outfitted with gas and electric stoves so clients become comfortable cooking on whatever appliance is in their home. Volunteer culinary instructors, like Chris Crawford, purchase the fresh ingredients needed for the classes.

“Food matters. It’s the most important thing that we put in our bodies,” said Crawford.

Instructors always emphasize the importance of cooking with fresh, seasonal foods when possible, says Crawford.

“If you can’t afford fresh, frozen is the next best choice you can make. If you can’t get frozen, take it out of a can if that’s all you can get, but don’t make bad decisions. Canned spinach is better than no spinach,” he said.

Downing has taken a number of culinary classes. Now she says her son is reaping the benefits.

“All he ate was chicken nuggets and french fries. I made the chickpea soup with the roasted chicken, and he ate the whole pan,” said Downing.

“What you learn from your mother often shapes the way you eat as an adult, so getting mothers who are bringing new children into the world, getting them early on the bandwagon of, you can do this without giving them preservatives and chemicals, it’s huge,” said Crawford.

Dads like Eric Ingrel are welcome to cook there, too.

“The chef is very good at teaching and letting you get in tune with everything that’s going on so you start to feel like you do it yourself,” said Ingrel.

Every Wednesday night, Crawford teaches a children’s cooking class called Healthy Kids. They talk about the different fruits and vegetables, their colors and how those foods can help keep you healthy. They also make a tasty meal they eat that night and sometimes share it with their families.

“I love everything about making people feel good when they eat something,” said Crawford.

“A lot of our families come in here with self-esteem issues and they’re suffering from trauma. They don’t have very much confidence, but they come in here and they get to cooking in this kitchen, something which is not hard to do and their confidence is built on love — the love of food, the love of having someone show them how to get it done,” said Family Campus Director Sheila Addison.

After the class, clients enjoy the meal — chicken with roasted butternut squash, broccoli and brown rice — a new recipe to add to their collection.