Common Threads, Cooking Skills & World Cuisine

by Common Threads
US Surgeon General visits classes
US Surgeon General visits classes

Common Threads has just ended another successful school year of providing our cooking and nutrition classes at sites in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Palo Alto and Washington DC - we are up to 53 sites and counting! 

Evaluation data collected from child and parent surveys throughout the year is being entered and tallied and we will be able to share just how successful our outcomes were very soon.  Until then, here are some wonderful quotes from individuals about how they grade Common Threads’ classes:

“I like Common Threads because I like learning to cook meals from different countries while also learning about the culture of those countries.  Some of the dishes that I learned to make are from Mexico, India, Korea, and many more.  Common Threads is a very good program that taught me many skills such as: chopping, cooking healthy meals, manners when attending a nice restaurant, and helping the community.  The people there are very nice.  Whenever I had difficulty with cooking, chopping vegetables or meat, the assistant chefs are always willing to help. One of the most exciting experiences was to meet chefs from around Chicago. It has been a great experience for me! Common Threads has given me the skills to help cook at home and make better decisions of which ingredients I choose to make a delicious and healthy meal.”

Common Threads’ student, age 11


“Starla LOVED everything about Common Threads, her counselors, the staff, and the chefs.  Every time she came home she was so excited and she would tell me about what she cooked and the trips were amazing.  She would show me her new dance or yoga moves…She loves helping me in the kitchen and telling me about different cultures.  She is my little chef.”

Parent of Common Threads’ student

"Every week it is a struggle to get kids interested in learning.  No matter what programs we run, arts, math, sports, there are always kids who are just not interested.  But your program is amazing.  Even kids who, for every other hour of every week, hate being here and can't stand school, they love Common Threads and they can't wait for those two hours of cooking."

Teacher at Common Threads’ partner school

New beginning February 2013 is our Full Year Program which was piloted in 29 schools in Chicago and 18 schools in Miami.  This new program takes Common Threads inside the classroom for the first time - we are now in-school curriculum providers, having evolved our after-school programming.  The Full Year Program engages children and parents for a longer period of time to create a lasting impact on their behaviors and practices around food and healthy living.

The Full Year Program will begin again in September 2013 and run through August of 2014, offering the following classes throughout the year: 

  • Cooking Skills & World Cuisine - our original class which teaches children how to prepare and cook nutritious meals via world cuisines
  • Family Cooking - children and parents cook and learn about nutrition together
  • Parent Night - parents are offered a detailed overview of Common Threads' programs
  • Small Bites - new in 2013; taught by classroom teachers; lessons are mapped to the Common Core Standards in Math and English
  • Garden Class - teaches children how to maintain and harvest from the garden
  • Summer Camp.- three weeks of fun with food, fitness and field trips  

As with all Common Threads’ programs, chef instructors, classroom teachers and volunteers are trained by us in how to teach our curriculums.  And the fun factor is still alive and well - children wear chef hats, aprons and learn about cooking and nutrition in commercial kitchens using grown-up equipment and tools.  A healthy meal or snack is prepared during each lesson and the children share and consume the nutritious dishes they have created.

As this is written, Common Threads’ staff in Chicago and Miami is busily preparing for Summer Camp which begins on Monday, July 15th in Chicago and Monday, July 29th in Miami.  This camp will teach children about nutrition, cooking, and physical fitness and provide a safe haven for over 200 underserved 8 to 12 year olds. Students will unlock their potential in the kitchen and gain the knowledge and skills they need to lead healthy lives both inside and outside of the kitchen.                              

Every day for three weeks students will travel the globe by preparing healthy dishes from around the world.  Campers will spend time learning and practicing physical activity and exploring kitchen science with hands-on experiments in the Common Threads’ laboratory.  The camp will culminate with a student cooking competition judged by local Chicago chefs and a pop-up grocery store allowing students to practice healthy grocery shopping as they select fresh produce to bring home.

Stay tuned for a Summer Camp wrap-up report is a few weeks.  Until then, live well!

Thank you to all who have donated to Common Threads’ programs on this GlobalGiving site!  We appreciate your interest in helping children in underserved communities access quality foods and learn nutritional practices and home-cooking skills that will help them live healthier now and into the future.

Gail Simmons lends a hand
Gail Simmons lends a hand
How to saute your vegetables...
How to saute your vegetables...
Preparing a garden salad in the garden
Preparing a garden salad in the garden
Students cook healthy granola alongside volunteers
Students cook healthy granola alongside volunteers

Common Threads is just beginning to set out on a new spring semester of Cooking Skills and World Cuisine classes, and we are larger and more effective than ever thanks to the help of so many wonderful sponsors and donors.

This semester we will be offering 53 Cooking Skills and World Cuisine classes: 27 in Chicago, 20 in Miami, 4 in Washington, DC, 1 in Palo Alto, and 1 in Los Angeles.  This is in addition to numerous Family Cooking Classes, Garden classes, and our newest initiative, in school nutritional programming called Small Bites.  In all, we will be putting on over 125 programs and training more than 100 teachers.

Furthermore, our classes continue to prove their effectiveness in getting kids to make healthier food choices. 

  • Students, from the beginning to the end of our programs, showed an average increase of 36% for healthy foods (wheat bread, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, fruit juice) and a 35% decrease for unhealthy foods (white bread, cookies, candy, chips, soda).
  • Students also continue to show marked improvement in:
    • Recognizing a healthy meal (17%)
    • Cooking at home (28.5%)
    • Enjoying school (10.4%)
    • Enjoying eating new foods (21.2%)
    • Following and making a healthy recipe (31.9%)
    • Enjoying eating fruits and vegetables (19.2%)
  • And 100% of students agree that Common Threads helps them to learn new things, work, and be responsible, with 90-95% indicating that they strongly agree with such statements.

Common Threads is forging ahead with our programs and seeking new and efficient ways to expand nutritional education for students across the nation.  We seek to be a thought-leader when it comes to new curriculum we are very pleased to be working with such school systems as those in Chicago and Miami which are actively seeking out organizations that can help expand their nutrition, gardening, and general wellness programs.

Exciting things are happening for Common Threads as we head into our 10th year, and we are very thankful for everyone that has been and will continue to be a part of our sustained success in combating obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles.

That is all for this quarter.  Thank you so much for your donations, and be sure to check back soon to see how your generosity is helping Common Threads to expand and reach more children’s lives than ever before!

Chef Trevor Hoyte instructs students in Chicago
Chef Trevor Hoyte instructs students in Chicago


Dixon students are excited to start cooking!
Dixon students are excited to start cooking!

Common Threads and the Cooking Skills and World Cuisine classes are now in full swing for the fall semester.  We’ve hit a few bumps along the way (CPS Teachers Strike, Hurricane Sandy), but the kids are cooking up a storm in Chicago, Miami and Washington D.C.

Common Threads is very happy to have on board all of our new school partners and students, with 15 classes in Chicago, 6 in Miami, and 4 in DC.   Even more exciting are our upcoming expansion efforts, with significant additions to our classes coming for 2013 in Miami and Chicago.

While we will not have final data on our current classes until December, Common Threads wanted to share with you a snapshot of what we are up against when it comes to getting kids back in the kitchen and eating healthy:

  • 56% of students report eating vegetables only 1 or zero times per day, and a larger percentage surveyed reported not eating any vegetables (26.5%) than reported the proper amount of 3 portions of vegetables per day (24%).
  • Responses for both “Chips” and “Cookies/Cake” were higher across the board than any whole grains, with almost half of students (48%) reporting no consumption of whole grains in the previous day.
  • When looking at a healthy plate of food, almost half of students (48%) chose a plate where fruits and vegetables made up only 1/4 of the plate, with 40% of students choosing a plate where protein was 1/2 of their meal.
  • More children say they have never tried a bell pepper (30%) than say they like to eat them (26%), and less than half of children responded favorably about avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, onions, or tomatoes.
  • More than 60% of students strongly agree that they enjoy cooking, but that number is cut almost in half (33%) when children as asked if it is easy for them to cook at home.

The obesity crisis makes it evident that more nutritional education is needed in this country, but it is numbers like those above that keep us dedicated to delivering not just knowledge, but hands-on, experiential learning for our students.  Actually getting to prep, cook, and taste fresh and nutritious ingredients and recipes is what helps us to make lasting impacts in our students’ lives.

Another key component of our fall programs just finished up, the Parent Outreach meetings.  Once per session at each class site we conduct an informational meeting for the parents of all of our students, helping them to bring healthy habits, recipes, and techniques into their own homes.  We recognize that until we can change things at home, our impact on students’ lives is not complete.  Here are some of our frequently asked questions from parents, with some responses from our parent materials:

  • How can I get more green vegetables into my family’s diet?
    • From hiding it in smoothies and lasagnas to perking up greens with a little lemon juice, there are a million ways to get greens on your plate.
  • What is the best way to get my children to stop eating junk food?
    • The most effective way to eliminate bad snacking is just to not have it in the home.  Never ration junk food or use it as a reward – you only increase its desirability.
  • What are some new ways I can cook chicken that are healthier?
    • Baking and grilling are always best.
  • Why is eating healthier so much more expensive?
    • It isn’t!  Shopping for seasonal fruits and vegetables and cooking at home are two of the best ways to keep costs down.

Thanks to a generous donation from Quaker, all parents that come to our meetings this semester are receiving a tutorial on making healthy apple-cinnamon oatmeal, and leaving the session with some free oats.  We have already heard back from a number of families that oatmeal is becoming the new norm in their household, whether it is fresh-made every morning, or cooked in batches and incorporated into a delicious banana-oatmeal smoothie!

Some of the most fun this semester has also included some outside help.  Common Threads is extremely thankful for the local support it gets from a number of high profile chefs from the area’s best restaurants.  It’s a wonderful way for them to show give back, and the kids are always excited and full of questions.  Common Threads would like to thank:  Ranjana Barghava, Vegetarian Indian Cooking Class; Terry Fucik, Dirk’s Fish; Toni Roberts, C-House; Cecelia Hamilton, Heartfelt Catering; Sarah Levy, S. Levy Foods; Jessica Carney, GT Fish & Oyster; Sean Pharr, NoMI; Fallon Fleyshman Morgan, Lifeway Foods, Inc.

That is all for this quarter.  Thank you so much for your donations, and be sure to check back soon to see how your generosity is helping Common Threads to expand and reach more children’s lives than ever before!

Chef Sean from NoMi with the Bradwell Students
Chef Sean from NoMi with the Bradwell Students


Group yoga pose
Group yoga pose

As the spring semester wore down into summer, Common Threads was able to collect even more data from our students, parents, and families.  We have found that 3 months after a student completes Cooking Skills and World Cuisine:

  • 87% of our families discuss eating healthy foods at least once per week, 58% discuss it every day
  • 91% of our families are eating dinner together at least 3-5 times per week, 45% 6-7 times per week
  • 80% of students accompany their parents to the grocery at least every other time and 68% of students help prepare the meals at home at least one out of every three days

These are encouraging results that demonstrate the effectiveness of our program. Common Threads knows it needs to continue impacting the lives our students and families, making sure they solidify and continue these positive behaviors after they graduate our Cooking Skills and World Cuisine program.

With this in mind, the Common Threads team strives to ensure that summer, though a quieter time for Common Threads’ Cooking Skills and World Cuisine classes, is an active and engaging season for our students and their families.

Common Threads keeps summer fun, involved, and nutritious by partnering with other community organizations to offer a variety of events for students and families to learn about food, themselves and the world around them.

Twenty of our most dedicated students, whom we lovingly refer to as our “Small Threads”, gathered for a summer cooking and nutrition camp, where they held competitions, learned new nutritional lessons every day, practiced yoga, and helped Common Threads develop a plan to celebrate the upcoming National Food Day.  We feel it is vital to get the input of children into how they would better their own food and communities.

Many other students took part in our garden classes with their parents and siblings.  Three sessions hosted 5-7 families each at our community garden on Chicago’s South Side.  The Common Threads World Garden flourished this summer and yielded loads of fresh produce and meals for our families and community.

Common Threads has also been able to put on a number of fun, one-time events.  Around 70 students and volunteers held a a field day, complete with Olympic style competitions and kickboxing instructions from professional trainers.  Fifty students and family members took advantage of a trip to the Shedd Aquarium, complemented by a sustainable sushi making class put on my local chef and fishmonger, Dirk Fucik.  Trips were also made to the Chicago Children’s Museum, and the Lincoln Park Zoo.  Most recently, we gave our students a chance to give back, as they volunteered and cooked alongside celebrity chefs at an event to raise funds for a longtime organization partner, the Ronald McDonald House.  It has been wonderful getting to see our students put their skills to work.

We are now gearing up for fall and ready to roll out a full slate of Cooking Skills and World Cuisine classes to a whole new batch of students. This coming academic year we will again serve at least 1000 students in our after school courses, with hopefully many more than that in new programs that will make their debut in 2012 and 2013, in four cities across the US.  We count on the wonderful and generous support of Global Giving to provide these opportunities for students to cook, learn, and grow.  Be sure to check back to see what we are up to, and how your donations are funding food, fun, and helping children to discover worlds they never knew existed.

Gus Makes Some Sushi at the Shedd Aquarium!
Gus Makes Some Sushi at the Shedd Aquarium!
Ronald McDonald House Chef Night
Ronald McDonald House Chef Night

It's been a great spring in Common Threads' Cooking Skills & World Cuisine classes. As our ten-week, after-school, hands-on cooking classes wrap up for the semester, we count that we have reached 480 children across our 29 after-school locations thus far in 2012. That figure outpaces last year by 10%, and rate of growth that is due in no small part to the generosity of those of you who use GlobalGiving.  

One particular story demonstrates the impact that Common Threads' nutrition education programming can have on the lives of low-income children and their families. After a seemingly endless day, a single mother picked her son Elijah up from his school in Los Angeles. As they were leaving, she realized she had forgotten her wallet and needed to pick up something for dinner on the way home. Mother and son were both exhausted and hungry, so they searched together for as much change as they could find in the car, their pockets and his backpack. After coming up with nearly $10 in change, the mother suggested hitting the drive-thru of the closest fast food restaurant for a hassle-free solution.

Elijah had a different plan. "Mom, I can make something for us. Let's go to the grocery store," he declared. Curious about what her son was planning, Elijah's mother headed to the closest corner store where they picked up spinach, tomato sauce, onions and rice to combine with some ingredients they had at home. Elijah skillfully used the fresh ingredients to create Egusi Soup, a Senegalese dish he had just learned at Common Threads. Elijah then proceeded to cook the rice so his mother could take leftovers to work the next day.

Continued support from GlobalGiving donors like you will help to ensure that kids like Elijah living in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Washington, DC will be able to step up to the plate in their families and help create a healthier home with their newfound hands-on cooking knowledge. Thank you for your generosity. 


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Organization Information

Common Threads

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Kristen Baxter
Development Assistant
Chicago, IL United States

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