Bite of Brainfood Blog

To Be Known and Seen: Get to Know Team Homegrown!


What daily rituals have you developed that define a normal day? Is it the barista who knows what drink to make you as soon as they see you walk through the door? Or maybe it’s the phone call you know you will receive from your sister at 6:30pm California time as she rides the bus home from work. Or the salute you share with your security guard when you enter your office building each morning. Our days are composed of a variety of intersecting structures and moments that we come to count on to support our needs as social beings with a place and value in our different workplaces/schools/families/communities. At Brainfood, the opening and closing activity that starts and ends every class is the structure that satisfies a basic human need, as researcher Brené Brown describes, the need to “show up and be seen.”

Staff Favorites at Brainfood

The wonderful thing about the Brainfood family is that it is ever growing. Every youth participant, volunteer, staffer, Board member, Guest Chef, and community supporter who has ever walked through Brainfood’s doors (literally or figuratively) remains part of the family. Yet each new face is welcomed with undiluted excitement.

The same could be said for recipes, curriculum, and activities in Brainfood programs. Some recipes have been staples in our first-year Kitchen All Stars program since its inception, while we continue to experiment every year with new additions. Returning participants in our Community MVPs program are seasoned veterans when it comes to dicing an onion “the Brainfood way,” but they consistently take on challenges and work to present new healthy cooking workshops throughout the city.

In the spirit of celebrating both the tried-and-true and the yet-to-be-discovered gem, I recently asked our Brainfood instructors to recount their favorite Brainfood class to teach, sharing what makes it special, in addition to a favorite Brainfood recipe or two. Here’s what they had to say:

Four Things at Brainfood That Warm Our Hearts on Cold and Snowy Days

 Winter has officially arrived in DC, but here at Brainfood there is plenty to bring us warm fuzzies in the midst of icy weather:
1. Teamwork from our youth Participants and Volunteers
With smaller groups of students present in class due to this wintry weather, our adult volunteers have therare chance to dosome hands-on cooking! While the volunteers and students see each other on a regular basis, they really got to know each other we

ll working one-on-one to create some super delicious food.

2. Team Homegrown making fresh ginger soda
The warming, spicy flavor of ginger is the perfect ingredient for a wintry all-natural homemade soft drink. Ginger’s natural qualities can also help boost your immune systems, which is important for anyone who’s been walking outside or shoveling during this winter storm!

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Making a New Year’s resolution is a common practice for many people around this time of year. At Brainfood, we figured we’d give it a shot too! But what does it really mean to make a resolution? To answer this question, I went to the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster, a resolution is “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.” Although the dictionary is usually a pretty reliable resource, I don’t find this answer so satisfying. Why’s that? Let’s break it down.

First, at Brainfood, we begin the process of making resolutions by looking back at our growth and improvement so far this year. Self-reflection is important, as it helps us to figure out what we want to improve upon and how we can best get there. While resolutions help us to think about the future, they really start with thinking about the past.

Game Day Favorites


I’m having trouble keeping my mind on work today. For the first time since 1981, my alma mater Clemson University is playing in the National Title Game. I’m counting down the hours and minutes until 8:30pm tonight.

Ugly is Trendy


You have twenty seconds to brainstorm three ideas for how to use your super brown bananas that are starting to attract fruit flies: GO!


   (20 seconds later)


 Here’s my list (I really timed it, and honestly, whether you believe me or not, I did ask myself that question pretty spontaneously. Originally I was going to use a different fruit, but then my brain did a last-minute switch-up, which probably evened up the playing field between us a little).


  1.  banana bread
  2.  banana ice cream
  3.  compost
  4. vermicompost!
  5.  teeth whitening
  6.  shine your shoes


Kitchen All Stars Celebrate the Holiday Season

Last Wednesday, in a hall decked out for the occasion, Kitchen All Stars participants all gathered together for our annual Holiday Celebration. Alongside friends, family, Weekly Classroom Assistants, special event volunteers, and Brainfood staffers, students celebrated ten weeks’ worth of accomplishments at Brainfood.

Just over two months ago, these same teens gathered in our Brainfood kitchens for the first time; they spent their first class learning how to measure wet and dry ingredients in order to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Now they have whisked, diced, and simmered their way into creating a delicious, festive meal that served over 100 participants and enthusiastic supporters.


The menu, decided by a student vote, included a vegan three-bean chili, green bean casserole, cheddar biscuits (the crowd favorite), crustless quiche, apple crumble, and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. 

Four Life Lessons the Buche de Noel Can Teach Us

Last week at Brainfood, we made a holiday favorite of mine: the Buche de Noel.  It’s an ambitious baking recipe, and our students did an amazing job with it. Even though I’ve made a Buche de Noel every Christmas since I was younger than our Brainfood participants, every year I make it, I seem to learn new things!  This year, four lessons have stuck with me.  

1. Traditions can evolve

The meaning of the name Buche de Noel is  “yule log”, and it actually originates from the Pagan  ritual  of burning a log to celebrate the winter solstice. This tradition was then adapted by Catholics into a Christmas custom which involved decorating the log before burning it. Eventually it morphed into a tradition involving a decorated log as a centerpiece surrounded by sweets, and then ultimately into a “log” made of cake (instead of an actual log), which is much more suitable for eating than for burning! This story serves as a reminder that traditions can change, and that everything has a mutlilayered history.

Defining Our Own Space

At Brainfood, we don’t have rules. “What?” you might be thinking, “No rules? In a kitchen full of students, teachers, volunteers, knives, bubbling pots, and hot ovens?” You heard right, but wait and hear me out. Instead of rules, the Brainfood kitchen is “run” by the Group Expectations document.  So radical! And really so much better.

The Group Expectations document outlines how we want to be together in our space. Everyone at Brainfood– students, volunteers, and teachers – collectively develops this document at the beginning of the year in with the goal of creating a collective space that is safe, welcoming, and fun. While this all sounds great in theory, what does this look like in practice? At Brainfood, how do we create community? Below are five of the Group Expectations that our students have come up with:

Going off script and off recipe with Community MVPs

Remember that the first time you tried shooting a bow and arrow, maybe at summer camp, and you finally hit the target? Or the first time you re-sewed a button on your favorite shirt? Or the first time you successfully configured a “sum” or “average” formula in an Excel spreadsheet, and it made the project you were working on SO MUCH easier?


It feels pretty good to take on a new task, struggle to learn it, then master it over time. Psychologists say when we practice and master new skills we build something called self efficacy, a belief in one’s own ability to persist and succeed. People with strong sense of self efficacy are shown to be more motivated to take on unfamiliar tasks and less likely to get discouraged. Psychologists also think people with high self efficacy tend to set higher health goals for themselves, so they're less likely to be long term smokers, unhealhty eaters, or sun worshipers. Pretty awesome, right?

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