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Are Home Economics Classes Back at the University of Minnesota?

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Forget about "Fudge Making 101" or "How to Darn Socks." Instead, "Cooking on a Student's Budget" is a one-credit class that probably ought to be a requirement before anyone ever even gets to go to college.

The College of Home Economics was done away with at the University of Minnesota in 1990 because fewer than 10 percent of students were enrolled in the program. Lectures on the principles of domestic economy and cookery had faded into obsolescence. But for the past three years, the old home economics labs have been dusted off to accommodate a new wave of students who are interested in cooking -- not as professionals, but in the old, home economic sense. Seems "Feeding Thyself 101" is a smart-cookie class to take, no matter your major.

See also: Kate Moore of "Community Cooking with Kate" on reinventing the potluck

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Those home economics labs had been given over to the Food Science Department in the interim years, but instructor Jenny Breen is now pushing aside the beakers and test tubes, and refiring those stoves.

"Some kids come to it because they think it's going to be an easy one-credit course," says Bren, instructor and professional chef who came to the U after getting into in the public policy side of food. "But some of them really love food, and what's cool is they are from all over the university -- some are definitely nutrition majors but also math, psychology; it's a really diverse group. A lot really do want to learn how to feed themselves."

The course is not intended to teach the coolest techniques, like how to brulee your creme or 17 ways to debone a pig. Instead, they cover practical matters like the 12 basic pantry items everyone should have, budgeting (students are expected to keep track of everything they eat for a week and how much it costs), and how to make substitutions when missing an item. And, most importantly, real life skills, like basic cooking techniques -- cutting, baking, and roasting -- and how to put together a reasonably nutritious meal from a convenience store. And this is an important point: It all takes place in a relaxed environment.

"Some people don't want to go to culinary school or even take a class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. But they do want to gain confidence in the kitchen, learn some basic nutrition, and develop some technique."

In the class's first year the enrollment was a paltry 13 students. Now, in its third year (sixth semester), there are 62 students, and Breen says its almost getting to be too big. But naturally, she's excited. "Kids really do want these skills." About 40 percent of her students are male.

Some feedback she's received include how many more vegetables they're eating, and also: "Fat isn't evil."

Homework is tactile and real-world: Cook your dinners at home, and prove you've done so by blogging about it. The site is currently home to over 600 blog posts and counting. "It's actually kind of overwhelming," she said. We are particular fans ofthis one.

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