Cooking Matters: Healthy, Affordable Meals on a Budget

December 13, 2016 Ruby Schuler, RD


Cooking class gives 20-year-old an appreciation of vegetables and aspirations for a career.

Fabian Vasquez and his mother, Leticia, enrolled in Queen of the Valley Medical Center’s Cooking Matters program, a six-week series of two-hour cooking classes at Silverado Cooking School to learn how to prepare nutritious meals on a limited budget. That skill became essential when Leticia was diagnosed with diabetes.

“At 20 years of age, my meals consisted of processed foods, like pre-packaged pasta and boxed rice,” said Fabian. “My mom has always eaten healthy. [Since her diagnosis], she became even more diligent about cooking nutrition-packed meals.”

During the first 30 to 45 minutes of every Cooking Matters class, a dietitian/nutritionist shares the health benefits of the ingredients that will be used to cook the meal. The five food groups, portion sizes, meal planning and nutritional labels are also discussed. The mother-and-son duo walked away from the class with a clear understanding of how to create robust, balanced meals that are packed with nutrients.

“We learned about the benefits of unique foods, like leeks to quinoa, and then discussed how to incorporate them into meals,” Fabian said. “I started eating vegetables I had never seen before.”

“By combining the nutrition and cooking lessons, participants get hands-on experience creating delicious meals,” said Ruby Schuler, a Registered Dietician at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, California. “When it comes to cooking, it’s easy to fall into a routine of preparing the same meals. That makes it hard to try new food and know whether it tastes good. Cooking Matters provides a fun environment to incorporate new ingredients into your diet.”

According to Malcolm de Sieyes, the owner of Silverado Cooking School, most palates will accept the uncommon foods prepared in Cooking Matters because of way they are prepared. De Sieyes has been a farmer and fisherman since the age of five and he centers the class recipes around the vegetables he grows on his two-acre farm, like radishes, carrots and peas.

“When you prepare wholesome food, you have a better quality of life, you feel better and you nourish those around you. Whether you are cooking for yourself, your family or others, it’s important to feed them quality, fresh, seasonal food — that’s what we teach during Cooking Matters,” said de Sieyes, who teaches the English version of the class.

Groceries are provided through contributions from Silverado Cooking School and Apple Lane Foundation. After nutrition is discussed, the class gathers their pots and pans and starts cooking.

“We go through the recipes in detail, usually cooking two or three elements that make up one course, like sautéed spinach, roasted potatoes and salmon [if we can find it at a price that fits within the Cooking Matters budget],” he said. “After we make the recipes, we eat together.”

“We stress the importance of eating meals with family to encourage mindful eating habits,” said Connie Evans, a nurse educator for Queen of the Valley Medical Center’s Community Outreach department, explaining that the curriculum is provided through a partnership/grant with Share Our Strength.

At the end of class, each chef receives groceries to take home so they can put their own spin on the recipe. When the class meets the following week, they discuss their experience cooking the recipe at home.

“The homework was a great time to reflect on everything we learned,” said Fabian.

Over the course of six weeks, Fabian became an accomplished cook — de Sieyes was so impressed by his talent and industrious nature that he offered him a position in the kitchen.

“He is fast, attentive and keen to learn — a natural fit with our team. In his role, he preps and
weighs food, sets up stations, and assists students during classes. This kitchen is his baby; he’s in charge of making sure it looks great,” said de Sieyes.

“The Cooking School is bright and airy, the equipment is shiny and clean, and the staff members are friendly and welcoming — I am right at home,” Fabian said. “If I’m with my friends, now I’m the one who cooks. I’d like to own a food truck and travel around the country one day.”

Silverado Cooking School staff volunteer their time, and the kitchen, for two hours every Tuesday night during each six-week series. Series are held several times throughout the year. Classes, taught in bothEnglish and Spanish, have been held at the Silverado Cooking School at no cost for low-income individuals for more than three years. For more information, visit

Quinoa Salad Recipe

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 limes, juiced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste


  1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes together in a bowl to create the dressing.
  3. Combine quinoa, cucumber, black beans and scallions together in a bowl. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture; toss to coat.
  4. Stir in cilantro; season with salt and black pepper.

Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator. 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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