Cooking Classes for Health and Budget, with a Side of Joy

Photos courtesy of 18 Reasons


“Getting people excited about making meals at home.”

That’s a goal that would seem easy to reach with mouth-watering classes like “Flavors of Malaysia” or “Japanese Baking and Sweets” at the community cooking school run by 18 Reasons. But this San Francisco–based nonprofit also teaches students how to prepare wholesome, delicious food when budgets are tight and busy work schedules leave little time for cooking from scratch.

Their 6-week “Cooking Matters” classes, held at health clinics, schools, and other community institutions, are free for families in low-income neighborhoods and include all ingredients needed for the recipes, plus extra for people to take home. In addition to kitchen skills, nutrition basics, and shopping on a budget, students learn how to enjoy cooking. “It has to be fun and delicious, or it won’t stick,” says Executive Director Sarah Nelson. “That’s why we don’t dwell on the health benefits of, say, broccoli, but ask: ‘How can I make that really tasty, so my kids will eat it?’”

Come for the food, stay for the community

Cooking Matters graduates understand what motivates participants, which is why 18 Reasons hires them as Peer Health Educators to teach the courses. Instructor Violeta Sandoval had just arrived from her native El Salvador when she took the course. “I was longing for community and familiar foods in addition to eating healthier and making ends meet,” she recalls.

Now her classes, held in Spanish, help others stretch their food budget, find camaraderie, and prepare wholesome and delicious meals. “As a group, we choose a favorite dish and make it healthier and more affordable without losing any of the flavor,” she says. “At the end of class, we all eat together—that’s everybody’s favorite part.”



Making the most of food, the creative way

As part of meal planning, students learn to incorporate leftovers and use ingredients to their fullest potential. Sandoval gives examples: “Beet, radish, and carrot greens often get composted, but they’re tasty and nutritious, so we teach people how to cook with them.” One of her favorite food-saving dishes is the pie on this page, which uses leftover chicken and radish greens but can also be adapted for other meats and vegetables.

Meet the Chefs

In collaboration with public agency StopWaste, 18 Reasons chefs recorded a small video library of food-saving hacks and recipes. Find it along with other tips and tools to make the most of food at




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  • Author: 18 Reasons


  • Radish greens (or other vegetables like spinach, beet greens, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.)
  • Leftover chicken (or other proteins like turkey, sausage, etc., or plant-based options like tofu or tempeh)
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 semi-baked 9-inch pie shell
  • Optional: grated cheese


Cube, chop, grind, or julienne vegetables. Cut meat into small pieces. Beat eggs with salt and pepper and mix with vegetables and meat. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake at 300°F for 25 minutes, covering the pie with foil for the first 15 minutes.

Optional: Remove pie from the oven, top with grated cheese, and return to the oven to brown.

  • Category: Entrée