Better Choices: Community Teaching Kitchen offers affordable cooking classes

Chef Ashley Keyes works in the CTK.

Downtown Atlanta has a new culinary hub for nutrition education. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. (Center Helping Obesity in Children End Successfully) in partnership with First Congregational Church just opened its Community Teaching Kitchen [CTK] at 125 Ellis Street.

“We admire and respect C.H.O.I.C.E.S and will continue to fully support its efforts on behalf of all of us,” Dr. Dwight D. Andrews, First Congregational Church of Atlanta pastor said.

“Our goal is to make cooking healthy and delicious meals an exciting experience for families,” said Lynne Scroggins, C.H.O.I.C.E.S. board chair and Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center vice president of community development.

CTK now offers affordable cooking classes in the church’s newly renovated kitchen on a variety of topics like canning, veganism, grilling, and chronic disease workshops, according Chef Ashley Keyes.

“The Community Teaching Kitchen will allow us to focus on technique, understand a new way to prepare classic items and discover that local sources are for everyone – empowering individuals with the tools to make a better choice.” Chef Lisa Rochon, CTK Council Chair, said.

Proceeds from the classes will further C.H.O.I.C.E.S’ mission to be a parent and child resource center for overweight and obese children. Over the last 17 years, C.H.O.I.C.E.S. has delivered its message of health to more than 85,000 children and adults through free cooking classes for low income families, physical activities, counseling, summer camps and health expos in partnership with fitness trainers, health professionals, motivational speakers, dietitians, health departments, schools, recreation centers and community organizations.

A ribbon-cutting for the Community Teaching Kitchen was held in March.

The nonprofit celebrates Georgia’s declining childhood obesity rate, from ranking second highest in the nation down to 17th highest in 2017 and pledges to keep working toward the elimination of childhood obesity.

“As a teenager and as a child, I struggled with my weight, so my mom started this as a club for girls to come and talk about their issues and to be a support group for parents. It’s changed over the years to focus on the whole family,” Chef Ashley Keyes said.

The organization really took off after former First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Let’s Move initiative. C.H.O.I.C.E.S began offering a variety of activities around food choices, exercise and self-esteem targeted at the entire family household.

“Mom buys the groceries and girls eat what mom buys. So we couldn’t just talk to the girls. We talk to grandma and auntie, too. Auntie doesn’t understand she shouldn’t cook with lard every day because it’s not healthy,” Chef Keyes said.

For six years, Cooking with C.H.O.I.C.E.S has provided free cooking classes for low-income families on how to prepare easy-to-make nutritious dishes as a cheaper and healthier alternative to eating out.

“We’re showing them how to make a meal for $15 for a family of four. And when we get kids involved – it also brings back communication. If you’re cooking together, those issues like bullying and peer pressure may come out,” Chef Keyes said.

Inside the CTK.

Cooking with C.H.O.I.C.E.S will still be offered at two locations – at Oak Hill off Metropolitan Parkway and Cleveland Avenue and at 125 Ellis Street – the CTK site.  It’s this program that sparked the desire to renovate the former fire station that was purchased by the First Congregational Church.

“UPS employees had volunteered with us over the years. They saw what we could do in a bigger kitchen at Oak Hill, so UPS gave us a seed grant to renovate the second kitchen,” Chef Keyes said.

Now the CTK classes, offered at half the price of comparable in-store classes and accessible by MARTA, will be a source of revenue for C.H.O.I.C.E.S.  And “if you can’t afford it, you can volunteer and earn credits toward a class,” per Chef Keyes.

“We are always looking for volunteers, donations and for people that need us.  I need help eating healthier. I need to change my eating habits or I need to learn how to cook.  We’re bringing the whole family back to the kitchen and the dinner table.”

Register for classes at choicesforkids.org.

To find a CTK recipe for honey dijon chicken, pick up a print copy check out the May digital edition of Atlanta INtown. 

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