Cooking Matters: Fast Food and the Blubber Burger

Chances are you’ve eaten a meal from a fast food restaurant recently. That’s because 80% of Americans eat fast food at least once a month, according to Business Insider.

But residents of a Food Desert (a low-income area where a significant number or share of residents live more than 1 mile from a supermarket in urban areas and more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas) often eat fast food meals more often than the “average American.” That’s because in a Food Desert, such as the one in southeast Raleigh, the absence of grocery stores is compounded by the abundant presence of fast food restaurants.CM.IFFS cobranding.logo2

And that takes a toll on health.

Which is why IFFS teaches Share our Strength’s Cooking Matters courses, engaging families with limited resources in hands-on, skills-based classes about eating healthy on a budget. One class in each six-week course specifically addresses how to choose wisely when eating away from home.

“Cooking at home tends to not only be cheaper than eating out, but it also puts the families in control of what they are eating,” explained Becky Dobosy, IFFS’s Cooking Matters Satellites Coordinator. “When eating outside the home, it’s harder to determine exactly what you are consuming, especially when it comes to fat and salt intake. In the class we talk about little steps to making healthy substitutions and reducing portion size.”

‘Healthy Starts at Home’ is the Cooking Matters for Families lesson where parents and their children learn the basics of reading nutrition labels and then have the chance to visualize the nutrition information for common fast food meals through the ‘Blubber Burger’ activity.blubber-burger-drawing-table-2--edit

Kids start by drawing pictures of fast food meals the kids would normally order. Then, using nutrition facts, everyone calculates the total fat in the meals they drew.

Next the kids grab a hamburger bun and a tub of Crisco and, using the equation 4 grams of fat = 1 tsp, measure out the total fat from their drawing onto a real life hamburger bun. It creates quite an impressive visual!

“In my experience coordinating Cooking Matters classes, hands-on learning is the most impactful with the kids,” said Dobosy. “Including a hands-on activity that lets them explore and experience a lesson makes them much more likely to remember it.”blubber-burger-kids-teach-parents--edit

The children then have the opportunity to tell their parents what they’ve learned.

“The kids are always shocked and grossed out by seeing the amount of fat in their meal represented by the blubber burger,” said Dobosy. In our families class they are very excited to share what they learned with their parents, and their parents are equally surprised.”

The lesson concludes with families learning how to prepare Baked Flaked Chicken with Sweet Potato Fries as an alternative to fast food for dinner.breading-chicken--edit

“Now that families know how much fat is in their favorite fast food items, they will start making changes to the way they order,” said Dobosy. Many of the participants make goals to swap fries with side salads, avoid sugary sodas, or eliminate their consumption of fast food altogether.”

If you would like to learn more about Cooking Matters or are interested in teaching classes (in either English or Spanish), contact Fiffi Negussie

By Lindsay Humbert, IFFS Digital Media Specialist. Contact:

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The School Day just got HEALTHIER!

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools.  What this means is that the kids you are working with to teach Cooking Matters will be looking at less energy-dense foods available to them in the schools.  Some of the changes include peanuts or fruit cups instead of cookies, donuts or candies.  The recommendations are drawn from research compiled by the Institute of Medicine.

This handout provides a great starting place for discussing energy-dense foods vs. nutrient-dense foods.  Feel free to print and share with Cooking Matters for Kids classes!

Smart Snacks in School -pdf

Kraft Easy Mac versus Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

by Sarah Paxson


This is a reoccurring series where we compare the nutrition facts of a pre-packaged, processed food item and it’s “fresh food” counterpart.

The Food Matters Mobile Message for the month of February focuses on sodium, so this past week our Nutrition Outreach Coordinator set out to determine the difference in nutritional value between Kraft Easy Mac and a recipe we have for Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese.

We’ll start with the Kraft Easy Mac. Their Easy Mac pouches contains 61g, with 230 calories per pouch. Its fiber content, one of the components of a diet that keeps you feeling fuller for longer (which cuts down overeating), is a measly 1g– 4% of your daily value. Fat comes in at 4g, cholesterol comes in at <5mg (since it doesn’t actually contain real milk or cheese, it doesn’t contain cholesterol), carbs come in at 42g, and protein comes in at 5g. But here’s the kicker: one pounch of Kraft Easy Mac contains 540mg of sodium– 23% of your daily value!

Let’s compare Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese. The serving size differed, so we calculated it so that it would match the 61g serving size of the Easy Mac pouches. In one serving of Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese, there are 121 calories. Fat comes in at 4g (same), cholesterol comes in at 10mg (more), carbs come in at 15.8 (way less), and protein comes in at 5.7g (slightly more). It also contains 2.4g of fiber, 2.5x more than Kraft Easy Mac. But sodium is the biggest difference: one serving of Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese contains just 154mg of sodium, nearly a fourth of the sodium!

Verdict: Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese has more of the good stuff like protein and fiber and less of the bad stuff like carbohydrates and sodium. Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese wins, plus you can’t beat the taste.