For the love of food: Educator combines passion for teaching, cooking
by Kara Coleman
kcoleman@annistonstar.com
Jan 07, 2014 | 3396 views |  0 comments | 100 100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Joey D'Anna/The Anniston Star
Photo by Joey D'Anna/The Anniston Star
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For Dr. Penny Nielsen, cooking has been a lifelong passion. As a child, Nielsen often stood on a chair in the kitchen and watched her mother cook, she recalls. And when she wasn’t in the kitchen, she was playing school.

“I’ve always loved teaching,” said Nielsen. “As a child, I would pretend to teach all my teddy bears and my sister.”

It’s no surprise then that the Weaver resident loves teaching children about cooking, and teaching educators about cooking with children. Nielsen advises incorporating into lessons recipes for foods favored by children story book characters. So if Goldilocks is eating porridge, find a recipe for porridge, she said. “It’s the idea of the reader as a cook.”

Nielsen, a doctor of education and resident of Weaver, is a longtime member of the International Reading Association and gives presentations for elementary school teachers at the group’s professional conferences. Cooking is very enriching to a child’s education, she says.

“There are so many benefits to children cooking. It brings families together. It builds self-esteem because children feel successful when they do something and it turns out well. They can learn the origins of foods, and about foods from different cultures,” she said.

Nielsen noted that cooking also gives children the opportunity to practice math and reading skills including following directions, sequence, vocabulary, fractions and measurements — and, of course, healthy eating.

“I like to teach limiting sugar, salt and fat,” she said. “Also, drink 100 percent fruit juice. Avoid things that are called fruit punch, because they actually have very little fruit juice and lots of sugar.”

Nielsen says that children who cook tend to consume more fruits and vegetables than those who don’t.

Working with children can also provide moments of humor.

“It’s amusing to let children write recipes, because they exaggerate or leave things out,” she said, recalling a group of third graders attempting to author recipes for pumpkin pie. “Only one of them remembered to include a crust in the recipe.”

When Nielsen isn’t teaching, she is sharing some of her own favorite recipes with readers of The Star. She has had recipes printed in the paper on multiple occasions, including ones for ice cream sundaes, Halloween treats, Thanksgiving side dishes, Christmas cookies and dishes using blueberries, pumpkins and corn.

Nielsen has also written about food in the Speak Out section of The Star including a piece about Star photographer Trent Penny and his daughter and their tradition of baking Christmas cookies. Another shared about high school students baking birthday cakes for hospice patients.

Nielsen is a vegetarian, and all of her recipes are vegetarian friendly.

“The vegetarian lifestyle really does have health benefits,” said Nielsen, who is a participant in the Adventist Health Study-2. The study, a project of Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, Calif., tracks the health and dietary habits of 96,000 Seventh Day Adventists in the United States and Canada. The researchers are attempting to discover which foods help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, which foods enhance the quality of life, and whether or not faith contributes to a healthy life.

Above all, Nielsen likes to focus on the family element of cooking.

“I have two of my late grandmother’s cookbooks,” she said. “And I encourage families to eat together. Just sharing family time is important.”

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For the love of food: Educator combines passion for teaching, cooking by Kara Coleman
kcoleman@annistonstar.com

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