Fredericton’s John Howard Society and Greener Village are helping young people become more skilled in the kitchen as part of a new program.
Cameron Sargeant, a family intervention worker at the John Howard Society, said the Youth Options program began in March with the goal of helping young adults between the ages of 15 and 30 cope with barriers in the workforce.
The program is meant to help youth who are unable to find work, maintain a job or aren’t engaged in school by teaching life skills, including how to write a cover letter, budgeting, and how to be more self-confident, said Sargeant .
More recently, the program introduced cooking lessons to help young people learn easy and healthy recipes that are budget-friendly.
“Greener Village was really great to help them learn some cooking skills and especially how to shop and cook on a budget and how to make their last meal,” said Sargeant.
Yves Dechaine, the executive chef and learning-kitchen manager at Greener Village, said the first cooking lesson helped participants feel more confident about their cooking abilities.
“We’re looking at kids who are on their own for the first time or looking to go on their own for the first time,” said Dechaine, “A lot of the time that’s a scary venture and we’re trying to give them all of the tools they’ll need to be successful adults.”
Dechaine said the cooking lesson is done in two parts.
First, he teaches teenagers and young adults how to read nutritional facts, what to look for in certain foods, what ingredients to avoid and how to shop for groceries on a budget.
“We do a week’s worth of meal planning, they choose a couple of recipes they would like to tackle and then the following class we tackle them at the Greener Village’s learning kitchen,” he said.
The first group chose to make jollof rice, a West African dish, as well as homemade linguine noodles and pasta sauce.
“I think they surprised themselves, because a lot of kids don’t realize how tasty it is to eat fresh and healthy and how easy it is,” said Dechaine.
“It’s really neat to see kids who think, ‘Oh no, I could never make anything tasty,’ and then when they try it their eyes light up,” said Dechaine.
Dechaine said he tries to teach each youth skills based on their level.
Some may not know how to open a can, where others may need help learning what ingredients work well together.
Sargeant said, prior to taking the cooking lessons, the students expressed what barriers prevent them from cooking for themselves.
“What we heard is that it takes a lot of time and energy to cook, it’s very expensive to buy groceries, we don’t know what to do once we have those groceries,” she said.
“They got to learn it wasn’t as difficult to work through a recipe and they didn’t take as many ingredients as they thought.”
Sargeant said the students showed more self-confidence when they learned that cooking for themselves and others is attainable.
“Everybody was proud to share what they made.”
How to get involved
Sargeant said the Youth Options program began in March and anyone between 15 and 30 who may benefit from the program can get involved by self-referral or by being referred.
“We’ve gotten lots of referrals from schools or from probation officers, social workers and sometimes people will refer friends after they’ve gone through the program,” said Sargeant.
Dechaine said the John Howard Society approached Greener Village in hopes of offering some cooking lessons within their program.
He said it’s been a positive experience so far and plans to keep offering the lessons as long as there is a need.