Cooking Matters at JFCS


Cooking Matters, a new nutritional education program that is part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, has landed in Philadelphia.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) is the local home of Cooking Matters, which helps families shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget. The program offers cooking classes and grocery store tours to low-income families and individuals to help them source ingredients and cook affordable healthy meals.

Cooking Matters functions like a franchise, partnering with local nonprofits and social services agencies. The six-part series involves weekly meetings, accommodates 10 participants and engages volunteers. There are two main elements: smart shopping and healthy cooking, and JFCS is the only Philadelphia-area agency that provides both of these components at its headquarters in Bala Cynwyd.

The grocery store tour portion of the program educates participants on shopping strategies, such as how to read unit prices and food labels, identify whole grains, select the best produce and optimize cost savings. The on-site cooking lessons involve a nutritional discussion, a hands-on demonstration of recipes and a “to-go” bag containing all of the ingredients needed to prepare the dish at home.

Dara Leinweber, a JFCS benefits specialist and the Cooking Matters program coordinator, oversees the entire program.

“Our first cohort just finished the training, and it was something special to see the community that they established during our six weeks together,” she said. “Participants shared tips and tricks on cooking, shopping and encouraging picky eaters to try new foods. In addition, Cooking Matters provided healthy recipes that children wanted to eat — which makes mealtime easier on everyone.”

Gladys Fink, manager/instructor in the JFCS Weinberg Teaching Kitchen, described the program:

“It is amazing. We give people the skills to cook simple, healthy foods on a budget. And I learn from them. They are coming to us with some cooking experience, but together we all learn new recipes for whole grains and healthy, simple, creative meals. We made a recipe for black bean brownies; they were surprisingly delicious. This program is a wonderful part of what we do here at JFCS — people leave happy.”

Cooking Matters is jointly funded; Share Our Strength, the charity partner of the Food Network, covers the lesson plans, books and all printed materials, while the local agency — in this case JFCS — takes care of the kitchen manager, program manager, food costs and program volunteers, who assist during the sessions. The next course will be offered in October.

Fink’s description of the black bean brownies, which are gluten free and pareve, encouraged us to share the recipe here:


Black Bean Brownies

Makes 16 brownies

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1¾ cups black beans, drained (or a 15-ounce can)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • Optional: ½ cup chocolate, peanut butter or butterscotch chips and/or nuts.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Drain and rinse the beans.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and vanilla with a fork. Add the beans and mash well. You can also use a food processor or electric mixer to blend this.

Add the sugar and cocoa, and mix again. Add chips and/or nuts if using.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the brownies pass the “toothpick test” or a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely, cut into squares and serve.


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