BY MICHAEL WALTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Teens diced onions, fried turkey bacon and learned how to prepare nutrition-minded meals during a Cooking Matters class at Traverse City High School.
The course is a collaboration between multiple community groups, including SEEDS, Traverse City Area Public Schools and the Michigan State University Extension Office. It aims to teach students cooking skills, nutritional awareness and a general understanding of healthy lifestyle choices.
"There's a very real connection between our nutrition and our happiness as individuals and as a community," said Greg Hart, a SEEDS food systems specialist.
Hart joined SEEDS staffer Christina Carson, MSU Extension Office nutrition instructor Lori Eccles, and volunteers Laura Cavender and Marlaina Norgan from the Oryana Food Cooperative at Traverse City High School this week for the culmination of the Cooking Matters class.
They helped about 15 students divided into small groups as they prepared dishes that pulled together everything taught during the course.
One group assembled breakfast sandwiches with turkey bacon and whole wheat English muffins. Another prepared perogies, a form of dumpling. The third group stuffed peppers with couscous and herbs, and the last group blended fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins into a smoothie.
Seniors Kenai Achard and Tawney Morris discussed the class' benefits as they washed spinach leaves.
Achard said she's not much of a cook, but learned a lot about the nutritional value -- or lack thereof -- of many popular foods and drinks. Before the class she never realized how much sugar and sodium are in sports drinks and pop.
"I've never paid attention to labels," Achard said. "Now I am just more aware."
TCAPS West Senior High School Athletic Director Patti Tibaldi coordinates the federal grant that pays for the Cooking Matters program. She was also one of several judges who tried all the student dishes at this week's class.
Tibaldi hopes to expand Cooking Matters to other TCAPS schools. It's one way to create a sense of urgency about obesity and related health problems like type 2 diabetes, she said.
And there's nothing wrong with teaching students how to cook delicious food in the process. Tibaldi's favorite dish was the couscous-stuffed peppers.
"They were my top taste," she said.