Cook Smart, Eat Smart 101

Students learn to prepare simple meals
In the catering kitchen of Talley Student Center, seven N.C. State University students chop green beans, green onions and fish fillets to prepare a meal that they will cook in two pots with steamer baskets. Tonight’s Cook Smart, Eat Smart class objective is steam cooking.

Cooking healthy meals in a dorm or small apartment poses challenges for college students. To help, two extension education graduate students are teaching a small group of undergraduates simple cooking methods to prepare meals for one or for a small group.

Kristen Baughman and Sarah Beitzel, the graduate students, have both taught cooking classes for other age groups, but they felt there wasn’t a cooking program really geared toward college students. The two decided that N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Cook Smart, Eat Smart program could be adapted for use with this group. Cook Smart, Eat Smart focuses on a variety of cooking methods and simple preparation techniques, as well as food safety and nutrition lessons.

Baughman proposed the idea to N.C. State’s University Dining, and it was well received. Kelley Brackett, University Dining’s public communications specialist, promoted the opportunity through campus dining services, and students signed up for the eight-week class in August. Throughout the course, they tried their hands at cooking methods like stir-frying, baking, grilling (on an indoor grill), using a slow cooker and baking fish and vegetables in parchment paper packets.

Chopping green beans
Students chop fresh green beans to steam in class.

An added bonus to the class is that students get to eat what they cook, and for most classes, it amounts to a small meal. On the next-to-last class in late October, the menu included lemon walnut green beans and lime steamed fish fillets.


Before they begin, Beitzel explains the steaming process and shares with the class the ingredients for the night’s meal. She also offers shopping tips on where she find the best value for class food dollars each week. Beitzel and Baughman don their “Family & Consumer Sciences” aprons and lead the group into the kitchen. Before preparation begins, everyone washes their hands.

The catering kitchen is a large work space, but Beitzel has found two small pots for steaming to reduce the cooking area to the size of a residence hall kitchen. The first step in preparation is washing and cutting the green beans, then some green onions for added flavor.

When the steamer pots are ready, the students place the green beans into the baskets, along with walnuts, a handful of green onions and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. While the green beans cook, one class member cuts two haddock fillets into enough pieces to feed the class. When the beans are cooked, students serve themselves — the cooks are pleased.

As the fish fillets steam, Beitzel and Baughman offer food safety tips, reminding the students to avoid cross-contamination between meat and vegetables on the cutting boards. They also talk about how to safely arrange food in a refrigerator (no raw meat on top) and the importance of cooking meats to proper temperatures.

The fish is done, and students line up for a taste. The cooking process has locked in a hint of lime, and the reviews are positive.

Junior Terri Palmer, a youth development major who lives in a campus apartment, says she has enjoyed the class and has experimented in her own kitchen with some of the program’s recipes. She’s also impressed her mother by offering healthful cooking tips. “This has been a great experience,” says Palmer.

Student serves green beans
Kiyana Harris serves herself steamed green beans cooked in class.

Both Palmer and Kiyana Harris, a sophomore biology major, are disappointed that the class will conclude the following week. They’ve both looked forward to the class and wonder what Tuesday nights will be like without it. Harris says that she hasn’t tried cooking in her campus dorm yet, but has tried some recipes at home. Cook Smart, Eat Smart has inspired her to enroll in a nutrition class next semester.


Junior Cory Wade, an agricultural business major, says the class has made him more aware of ways that we habitually make our food less healthy, such as adding too much oil to a recipe.

Senior Alex Osborne, a parks and recreation major, just recently prepared two recipes from class – turkey chili in a slow cooker and cornbread. His girlfriend is a good cook, and he would like to impress her with his kitchen skills. “I enjoyed the variety of things we’ve cooked,” Osborne said. “I like the way they’ve laid this class out – I appreciate the hands-on model.”

On the last day of class in November, students prepared baked ziti and a salad with homemade dressing. Everyone who completes the class will receive a Cook Smart, Eat Smart magazine with all the class recipes.

Next semester, Baughman and Beitzel hope to repeat the class, though Talley Center renovations in progress may force them to look for another location. The two instructors believe they will be able to find another site if necessary.

Throughout the class, the instructors posted photos and stories from class on a blog. Read more about Cook Smart, Eat Smart for students at:

View more photos from class.

-N. Hampton

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