When food selection, shopping, and preparation is unknown territory…

Clara Leask is a woman with a foot in two camps.

A teacher by profession, Clara also was a young mother during the era when every mother stayed home. There were no fast food restaurants and people just didn’t eat ‘out.’ Moms cooked, three meals a day. Moms made lunches and kids went off to school with full tummies. Moms were there after school with snacks. Kids might have had a piano lesson or attended Boy Scouts but daily organized activities just weren’t part of the action. Your single speed bike and freedom to ride were all the organized exercise kids got.

Not only that, Moms took long periods of time selecting healthful food in the grocery store. They chose food that needed preparation, was the least expensive and gave the most nutrition for the dollar. Moms made muffins and cookies and real fruit cocktail. They made pasta with home made sauce ‘put up’ during the height of tomato season. They served pickles preserved in the early fall.

Now, jump ahead to 2007 and you’ll see real difference. We have now one or two generations who grew up on fast food meals, working and/or single moms with no time to spare, recreational schedules that make incredible demands on family time. We have an awful lot of young people who don’t have nutritional knowledge and who are living on very tight incomes with no idea how to shop or prepare healthful food that stretches the food dollar to last.

As a mom who stayed home and nourished her kids on home made meals, Clara has a boot in that camp. And as a teacher back in the classroom after her kids were older, Clara has seen first hand the results of kids without breakfast (or maybe even dinner the night before.)

Clara, Wanda Kelsey, Barb Martin, Ben Starring, Ben Andrews.. a number of people in a church group, got to talking one day about poverty in our rich nation. “It’s a national disgrace that we in Canada have hungry children. And nothing seems to improve.” They thought that yes, the foodbank helps as a bandaid solution, much as a hostel bed helps the housing situation. But for real change, you have to teach people how to not run out of money, how to shop for food that will offer affordable nourishment.

“We wanted to help people learn how to shop, make good choices when they’re shopping, manage their money. And home economics classes don’t teach this because those classes don’t exist any more. Simply put, we wanted to teach people how to choose and prepare good food.”

Clara and a few others felt that if they could perhaps teach their expertise.

They applied for a grant from the United Church, which was matched by their own Central United Church and with volunteer help and coordination they have produced seven DVDs that promise to teach everything from reading store labels for price and quality comparison, compare fresh, frozen & canned food, prepare all kinds of meals, cleanliness, composting, kitchen tools, measurements, making meals from free food, time-saver meals, lower cost-high nutrition meals, types of fat, flour, leavening agents, and the difference between healthy food and empty energy.

The set of DVDs comes with a 350 page book with instruction for every type of meal. Input to the project has involved the Health Unit, Non Profit Housing, Food Bank and Children’s Aid Society.

At $100 for the entire set (including book), the team is hoping agencies, organizations, church groups, food banks etc will purchase the product. They are then welcome to reproduce and share as much as possible.

This ambitious production including menu making,,, (from hundreds of submitted recipes) with Clara herself cooking in a modest kitchen while Ben Andrews took position behind the camera. The group has produced pamphlets on the project so you can read before you buy.

Clara said when they received calls from a Toronto dietician they began to hope that the project finds its way across Canada. They have produced 150 sets to begin with, with quick production turnaround for more.

It’s kind of a replacement for yesterday’s mom. Clara’s favourite recipe is for a muffin mix… a batter recipe that pops into the fridge to be used a bit at a time for tasty raisin muffins. Clara has used her 20 years of classroom experience to teach people how to select and prepare food from a DVD.

It’s been a huge project and Central United Church (728-7589) is acting as pamphlet and package agent for those wanting to purchase a set, or make an inquiry.

At age 75, Clara is spurred on by a call from one of her former students who remembered her teacher’s lessons when she became a single parent with young children. She told Clara that all her food preparation and selection lessons allowed her to feed her children on a very small budget while she re-built her life.

“If lessons can do that for one person, they can spare thousands of children from malnourishment and hunger,” says Clara.

Thanks, team!