Lettuces, peppers, and cabbage oh my! The Gardening Crew at CSS has been in full gear this spring. It’s been an exciting season as we battled the weather to ensure the success of this year’s crop of vegetables. Late cold spells didn’t dampen enthusiasm one bit as we started seedlings indoors and then began transplanting the moment it looked like we were safely free of winter. Gardeners still got some exciting late season frost warnings but the carefully tended plants are now thriving underneath the summer sun.
Individuals with autism may react differently to their environment and sometimes will over-react, or under-react, to stimuli involving touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. Instructional associates focus on activities to help program participants handle sensory stimuli, all while building communication and social skills. Gardening nurtures these skills while connecting the budding agricultural enthusiasts with nature. The full seedling to harvest process gives a sense of appreciation as we teach hands-on training while caring for our vegetables.
These valuable skills are also transferrable to finding employment opportunities. From landscape training to different watering and harvesting techniques CSS is thrilled to be able to continue our Healthy Living Skills program. It’s great to see the progress of our gardens as we augment individuals’ skillsets.
Learning about nutrition and helping to prepare healthy snacks during the day program is a good introduction to some of the key components of embracing a healthy lifestyle, but the best place to reinforce healthy eating habits is in the home. My last stop of the evening, after all of the cooking classes and groups have left for the day, is always to one of the many homes in the CSS residential community.
Every home in the residential program has a house menu, many of which are tailored to the specific dietary needs of the individuals living in the house. By visiting the houses at dinner time I am able to assist the staff in following their house menus and help them to find creative ways of including more of the foods that their clients enjoy. In this way we ensure that the individuals are enjoying the food they eat in addition to getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
In all of the houses, individuals are encouraged to participate in preparing their own meals. With guidance and supervision, many high functioning individuals are able to prepare meals independently. Making a healthy dinner can become a fun activity for everyone to enjoy instead of a chore. While the individuals sit down and enjoy the meal, I meet with the staff and discuss strategies to meet the clients’ nutritional needs and keep them satisfied while following the guidelines laid out in the planned menus. Subjects in this area include developing healthy shopping habits, understanding proper food sanitation, and recognizing healthy alternatives to components of the meal that the individuals don't like.
Low-Guilt Comfort food
Most people don't get cravings for celery sticks and quinoa. Often times the foods that we crave are the ones that do the least for our bodies, at least from the standpoint of trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. One way of overcoming such cravings is to simply cheat! Find creative ways to make the junk food that you crave into a healthy meal that you can feel good about indulging in. Think about the criteria that make healthy foods good for you and then look for innovative ways to make the less-healthy foods that you crave fit into that group. The following recipe is a variation on the classic macaroni and cheese that is so easy to make and satisfying to eat, you'll never buy the prepackaged stuff again (as if you could even call that stuff "cheese!”).
Low-Fat Homemade Mac'n'Cheese with Broccoli
1/2 box Whole Wheat pasta
1 can Low-Fat Condensed Cheddar and Broccoli soup
1 cup Fat-free Milk
1 cup Low-Fat Shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups Broccoli, steamed
Garlic and onion powder to taste
Black pepper to taste
Boil pasta according to package directions; Drain and set aside. While the pasta is boiling, combine condensed soup and milk in a medium sized pot.
Bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat and stir until it is blended well and has thickened slightly; remove from heat.
Return the drained pasta to the pot and pour the cheddar soup mixture on top of it; add the shredded cheese and cooked broccoli and gently fold the ingredients into the pasta. Place the pot over very low heat and continue to mix until the cheese is melted and the pasta is coated with sauce.
Makes 4 servings
Cooking as therapy
There are few things in life that bring such immediate satisfaction as sitting down and enjoying a tasty snack. My goal each day in Cooking Class is to supplement that enjoyment with an understanding of where our food comes from, how it is made, and how knowing what goes into our food can help us to make healthy food choices.
Although the common theme of the classes is learning to prepare healthy food, I maintain the premise that simply being in the kitchen opens infinite opportunities for therapeutic activity: Students apply critical thinking skills to recognize and measure ingredients; basic motor skills are engaged in holding and using kitchen tools; examining the recipe as a group is an opportunity for students to utilize reading skills as well as verbal and social skills. The list of benefits goes on and on and at the end of it all we are left with not only the gratification of having accomplished a series of tasks, we are able to sit down and enjoy the product of our labors as reinforcement for a job well done.
In my mind, nothing heralds the start of the holiday season quite like the smell of freshly baked gingerbread! Something about the special blend of spicy ginger and clove with hints of fragrant nutmeg and cinnamon just makes us feel comforted and warm. This recipe produces a loaf of moist, cake-like gingerbread.
This recipe is relatively low in sugar, calling instead for black strap molasses. Unlike refined sugars, molasses contains trace amounts of vitamins and significant amounts of several minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20 percent of the daily value of each of those nutrients. The fact that this recipes calls for no egg or dairy products also makes it entirely vegan. The addition of it being infinitely simple to make is a great holiday bonus.
1 Cup dark molasses
½ Cup brown sugar
½ cup Canola oil
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground clove
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 Cup boiling water
2 ½ Cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
Individuals at CSS continue to nourish the six garden plots at Wooten Mill Garden Park in Gaithersburg. While many crops are coming to a close for the season, the tomatoes are abundant! Dozens of crates of a variety of tomatoes are brought back to the CSS kitchen. Chef Adam incorporates the fruit, as well as other crops from the garden, into the weekly Healthy Living cooking classes, using recipes such as fresh tomato and basil soup. The remaining tomatoes are cooked in bulk recipes, such as marina sauce or ketchup, and canned. The resulting product is divided among CSS residential houses for the individuals to use at home while preparing healthy meals.
Rockville 11's special correspondent Rocio Snowdy covers Community Support Services, Inc.'s Garden to Table program at the Woottons Mill Garden Plots - watch this short video to find out how the program fosters a unique learning experience for community members.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZMUK6ZyExs&feature=youtu.be
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