Cooking healthy meals for all the family to enjoy can be time-consuming and expensive.
But one cooking class specialises in making quick, cheap and, more importantly, easy meals that everyone will love.
The Tastes Great cooking class is run by The EC Roberts Centre, in Crasswell Street, Portsmouth.
Once a week, lecturers from Highbury and restaurant chefs go to the centre and help the participants learn new recipes.
With a fully-functioning kitchen, the parents have a chance to learn new meals which can then be repeated at home.
Funded by Comic Relief, the classes encourage parents to try new ingredients and flavours.
‘We recognise that some of the families who use the centre don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to cooking,’ says Liz Walker, children’s services manager at the centre.
‘They want to improve their skills and get a better understanding of nutrition.
‘Easily accessible food can be expensive, lacking in basic nutrients and high in sugar, fat, salt and colouring.
‘Tastes Great aims to teach life-long skills that enable families to use a greater diversity of ingredients and skills and have healthier diets.’
The lessons cover sweet foods to savouries and snacks to main meals.
A few of the favourites with the parents who attend are the shepherd’s pie and lemon cheesecake.
Lisa Ablett, from Fratton, has attended many of the cooking classes and thinks they are a great addition to the centre.
The mum-of-three says: ‘I was involved in The EC Roberts Centre before the cooking classes started.
‘It is through them that I heard about the class.
‘I love it and I like that I can come back, learning more recipes and new flavours.
‘I used to be okay with cooking but I had lost all my confidence.
‘Even cooking sausages and fish fingers would cause me to panic because I didn’t think they were done.
‘I was constantly checking and it just took all the fun out of it.’
For Lisa, finding food her children like is a must and the class brings more range into their diet.
She adds: ‘The new ingredients and recipes I learn in the class, I try at home too.
‘That is one of the best things about Tastes Great, they are easy enough that you don’t need constant mentoring once you’ve been shown.
‘All the ingredients can be found in a normal supermarket at cheap prices.’
Similar to Lisa, Katie Weiss-Frowde has three children.
She is also a regular of the cooking class and loves the different recipes she can now include in her cooking.
Katie adds: ‘I love cooking but I am not that confident when it comes to new things just in case I do it wrong or use the wrong ingredients.
‘But here, all the recipes are easy to follow and they don’t take any fancy equipment or technique.’
The recipes are picked by the mentors who come into the class.
They alternate from lecturers from the hospitality and catering course at Highbury College and chefs from local restaurants.
Aaron Haydon, from Loch Fyne in Gunwharf Quays, picked haddock paté for one of the sessions they ran.
With only a handful of ingredients needed and preparation time of only 15 minutes, the meal was a favourite at the class.
‘We like to pick easy, simple meals which are good for families to make.
‘It is about doing something that is easy and uses equipment that anyone has at home.
‘The haddock paté in particular is cheap because it only has fish, shallots, horse radish, mayonnaise and soft cheese.
‘All these things can be bought at supermarkets and they can be adapted.
‘That is another thing with the meals we pick; they can all be changed to meet an individual’s favourite flavours.
‘They can swap the fish or meats for other ones or, if the dish has vegetables, they can add more of them.
‘They are all quite versatile.’
The project started last year when the group was given funding by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Comic Relief Cash Fund.
The centre ran a few lessons and the popularity of the group grew so they decided to restart it.
Originally, the class saw a lot of parents but now people who just want to improve their cooking for themselves are starting to attend.
Angela Hutcheon lived in Spain before returning to England and she has been to two of the classes.
She says: ‘We first got involved in the centre because when we returned from Spain we were homeless.
‘The more time we spent here, the more things we learnt about the centre and the Tastes Great cooking class was one of these.
‘I have loved coming because it has really helped with making new friends as well as learning new recipes.
‘For my husband and I, it is also an opportunity to spend some time together doing something we both love.’
Angela has tried new recipes which she never thought to try.
She adds: ‘In my second session, we made orzo which is a rice dish which I never though I’d be able to make.
‘But it is so simple and it takes a professional to show you just how easy things can be made when you know enough information about it.’
The EC Roberts Centre is a child-focused charity which offers a range of services for families in need of support and assistance.
They have a nursery within the centre along with many projects, like the cooking class, to help parents.
They look after homeless families or those dealing with relationship problems.
To join in with the Tastes Great cooking class or for more information on the centre visit robertscentre.org.uk or call (023) 9229 6919
Ingredients (serves 8)
80g digestive biscuits
50g melted butter
200g light soft cheese
500g Quark (fat-free soft cheese)
200g icing sugar
Zest of two lemons
Juice of three lemons
Four gelatine sheets
1. Crush the digestive biscuits and mix with the melted butter.
2. Press into the base of a 20cm springform tin. 3. Chill till firm.
4. Whisk the light soft cheese with the quark and icing sugar, then fold through zest two lemons.
5. Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water and melt in the juice of three lemons over a low heat.
6. Beat into the cheese mix, then spoon on top of the biscuit base.
7. Chill until set.
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)
450g (about 4 large) cooking apples
75g butter or baking margarine in cubes
150g wholemeal flour
5 tablespoons water
1 dessert spoon of dried ground cinnamon
10g Demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas mark 4
2. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the butter/margarine. Rub the butter/margarine into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
3. Peel the apples and chop into small chunks (about 2cm) and place into a small/medium oven dish. Add the water and cinnamon and stir well then place the crumble mixture on top and smooth over.
4. Sprinkle the sugar evenly onto the top.
5. Bake in the oven until the crumble is browned and the fruit is bubbling and has softened (about 40 minutes).
6. Serve with fat free yoghurt or low- fat custard.
Ingredients (serves 4)
400g lean beef
50g of sweetcorn
50g of frozen peas
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
4 tsps of low salt gravy granules
1. Peel the potatoes and chop into chunks. Peel the carrots and chop in small chunks.
2. Cook the potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling water until tender.
3. Add the mince to a large saucepan and fry over a high heat until browned. Stir in the carrot, peas, onion and mixed herbs.
4. Add 300ml of water and bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Drain potatoes and mash.
6. Add the sweet corn to the mince mixture then sprinkle in the gravy granules. Stir until thickened.
7. Tip the mince mixture into a baking dish and make sure it is evenly spread. Top with the mashed potatoes
8. Place under a grill and grill until the top is browned.