Cooking skills fortify future moms


Coming home after school, she was often greeted with a plate of her mom’s warm homemade sugar cookies. And, as the instructor recounts, she carried on this tradition with her own daughter. During the Culinary Heritage Institute’s (CHI) six-week program Informing Ourselves, instructors share memories such as this one with teen and homeless mothers residing at the Annunciation Maternity Home (AMH). CHI hopes to foster an awareness of healthy living and family cohesion as these young women move forward in their new lives.

Dianna Howard founded CHI with a mission of “preserving our culinary past, while promoting our culinary future.” CHI currently offers educational outreach in Georgetown middle schools to instill the importance of healthy eating, the family table, and cultural diversities.

AMH is a facility providing housing for young women in crisis pregnancies and for two years after their babies are born—at no cost to them. And throughout their stay, health services and educational opportunities are available. AMH’s goal is “to better the options for teens and young women for generations to come.”

Informing Ourselves reinforces this goal. The twelve-module program covers a host of topics taught by nutritionists, local chefs, gardeners, and other professionals. Practical life skills are the bread and butter of the course. Students learn to choose and make healthy foods such as oatmeal garnished with dried fruit or on-the-go peanut butter toast for breakfast. They practice deciphering nutrition labels on foods. They learn strategies for budgeting and tactics such as shopping the perimeter of a grocery store for the healthiest items—fresh fruits, veggies, milk, and eggs. The students also modify cultural dishes by substituting more nutritious ingredients for less healthy foods, such as replacing sour cream with yogurt.

Because an inviting table enhances a meal, students also learn about place settings and etiquette. Dianna says that setting an attractive table, incorporating something as simple as a single wildflower in a vase or as special as a birthday plate used year after year, “is a way, without any monetary cost, to daily honor the importance of family.” The young women spend hands-on time making delectable hummus and fruit smoothies, mastering six different chicken dishes—including chicken parmesan and enchiladas—and preparing many other healthy foods. Since all that slicing and chopping can be dicey activities, Executive Chef Jonathan Gelman of the Driskill Hotel teaches knife skills as well.

And those sugar cookies fondly remembered? That recipe will likely be among many shared and collected to fill the young women’s personalized binders. One young woman says, “My recipe binder is special to me because . . . I can use the recipes to cook good food for my child, as well as share them with my children and family.”

Dianna says the program will continue to be offered at AMH, and volunteers are welcome to help in any capacity at CHI. Informing Ourselves gives these young women life skills that can help them hone brighter beginnings for their new families.

For more information on the Culinary Heritage Institute, visit For more information on the Annunciation Maternity Home, go to

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