Cabarrus Health Alliance

Class teaches healthy cooking on a tight budget

April 01, 2015


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Meghan Charpentier, program coordinator with the Cabarrus Health Alliance, understands the challenges of cooking healthy food.

She wants people to know that with a little preparation most dishes can be prepared in less than an hour.

Ingredients in the cupboard or refrigerator can be substituted to make a quick and healthy meal.

The alliance has been offering twice monthly healthy cooking classes since April 2012 when it moved into its new building at 300 Mooresville Road in Kannapolis.

“The classes allows us be able to show people how to cook and how to make this a realistic lifestyle,” Charpentier said. “We want to break down the barriers of ‘I don’t want to try something new or healthy’ so we are able to give them the option to come here and try these things.”

The alliance partnered in March with N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute to offer the class – Cooking on a Budget – to share the lessons learned at the North Carolina Research Campus about cooking with potatoes and black beans.

On March 18, a dozen students attended the class. Not only did the students learn how to cook the dishes, but they were fed as well.

“If you don’t have broccoli and the recipe is calling for broccoli, but you have leftover spinach or even frozen spinach, throw that in there,” she said to the students.

The same applies to protein, she said. “If it calls for chicken and you don’t have it, using an alternative protein source like beans or lentils will be a great way to incorporate that piece of the nutritional puzzle into your life.

“It all depends on what you are looking for. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all,” she said.

Staying on that theme, when she started preparing the pineapple black bean salad, Charpentier chose to try couscous, a grain from semolina wheat, for the first time. She wanted to expose her students to the different type of grain that is easy to prepare.

With the help of program coordinators Rolanda Patrick and Katie Dight, Charpentier took the students through the preparation and cooking of Southwest chicken skillet, potato frittata, and pineapple black bean salad, providing a serving of each to the students.

Charpentier and her assistants fed 14 people the four dishes for $38.35, about $2.74 per person. Telling the class she spent 30 minutes for preparation – chopping up everything before class – they had prepared, cooked and served all four dishes in less than an hour, “on a budget.”

Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at

Want to go?

The Cabarrus Health Alliance has a class twice each month, one on a Saturday and one on a weeknight. The next class will be Kids Cook: Baking Basics taught by Megan Shuping from 10 to 11:30 a.m. April 11 and 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 15 at 300 Mooresville Road, Kannapolis.

Meghan Charpentier will teach Healthy Desserts,from 7:30 to 9 p.m. April 10.

To register and pay for the classes go to

Pineapple Black Bean Salad

Makes six 1-cup servings

1 lime, juiced

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

4 cups cooked grain (bulgur, quinoa, brown rice)

1/2 bunch cilantro

15 ounce can pineapple tidbits

15 ounce can black beans

Cook the grain according to package. Allow grain to cool completely. Prepare dressing by whisking together lime, olive oil, honey, cilantro, garlic powder and cumin. Drain pineapple tidbits and chop into smaller pieces. Pull cilantro from the stems and roughly chop the leaves. Rinse the black beans and drain. Combine cooled grain, beans, cilantro, pineapple and dressing and toss. Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.

Southwest Chicken Skillet

Makes six servings

1 cup uncooked long grain white rice

1 cup salsa

2 cups precooked shredded chicken

15 ounce can of black beans

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 and 3/4 cups of chicken broth

1 cup shredded cheese

3 green onions, sliced (optional)

In a large skillet, combine the rice, salsa, chicken, black beans (drained and rinsed), chili powder and chicken broth. Stir until everything is combined. Place a tight fitting lid on the skillet, turn the heat on to high, and let the skillet come to a full boil. When it does, turn down the heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes. You should be able to hear the simmer.

After 30 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid and fluff the mixture with a fork. All of the liquid should be absorbed and rice tender. Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded cheese on top and replace the lid and let it sit for a few minutes until the cheese melts. Sprinkle green onions if desired.

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