Eva’s residents will be participating in a newly revamped culinary program called ‘What is on the menu? This five-week workshop uses tactile activities like creating a meal to incorporate other skills like financial literacy, time management, and budgeting. “I didn’t want to replicate a classroom setting with these sessions, cooking should be an enjoyable process that anyone, regardless of their skill-set can be proud of the meals they create,” says Linda Frempong, Program Facilitator, Eva’s Phoenix. “It is a fantastic fun way to intersect different life skills while being practical as well.”

Before the residents even get into the kitchen, they must complete a cooking orientation about kitchen safety practices and food handling.

Cooking healthy is a crucial part of this program. “We want participants to engage with food in a way that is a lot more immersive. So it’s not just about chopping it and grilling it, it’s knowing where food comes from, thinking about nutrition, and the quality and quantity of ingredients to get,” says Linda. “We will address dietary needs, food waste, and mental health pieces like food hoarding.”

Topics such as food deserts and access to affordable food are crucial for youth. Food deserts are defined as geographic areas where residents lack access to affordable, healthy food options (mostly fresh fruits and vegetables) due to the absence of grocery stores within a convenient travelling distance. “This is important for when they start looking for housing,” says Linda. “They will need to think about access to food in the area. Right now, while in the program, their focus is in the vicinity of where we are. However, what if they’re moving into a space without a grocery store nearby, how are they going to navigate that?”

Cooking up lessons

Black and Indigenous youth are over-represented in the homeless population, and it is no different at Eva’s. So there will also be teachings around social justice issues, and how communities have had to adapt when it comes to creating their own cultural meals.

This program addresses the challenges of finding diverse ingredients needed to create culturally relevant cuisine. “We will go beyond simply shopping at mainstream stores like “Food Basics” or “No Frills”. We will also incorporate West Indian and Asian groceries because that’s where they are likely to find the ingredients needed for making their cultural dishes.”

Mathematical meal prep

At the end of the program, students will get to showcase their culinary prowess by cooking a meal for residents. “Participants will be encouraged to choose a recipe they would collectively like to cook, and will then have to create a budget and a grocery list to create the meal. Due to COVID-19 protocols, residents will prep the ingredients while social distanced in the main space and then go off and cook in their residential kitchens,” shares Linda. “As they cook, students will make notes, markdown tips and take pictures. Every meal created will go into a recipe book, that they will hand in. This cookbook will be made accessible to all Eva’s residents.”

Participants will hone skills that they will take with them as they exit homelessness while contributing to a cookbook that will hopefully live on, and be shared with future residents working towards brighter, tastier futures. Bonne appétit.

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